After floating through
space for what seemed like an unbearibly long time – but
Piett knew it was probably about half an hour – the escape
pod entered a gravity field.
A blue blinking light indicated that it was now falling toward something. If it had been caught by a tractor beam the light would shine continuously.
Piett put the emergency ration down on the bench next to him. He had passed the time by examining the escape pod and reading all the displays on the controls. When he had been appointed Captain of the Executor he surely had read all about the ship including the escape pods but he had not remembered a single fact. After finding out everything he could about the pod, he had decided to eat.
The emergency rations were packaged in unlabelled metal boxes so it had been a gamble to choose which one to open. He knew there were different things in the rations, he had been at the staff meeting discussing escape pod provisions.
It had been the first meeting of that kind he had attended after his surprising promotion to admiral, and he had been astounded by the fact that Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and all that, had been bothered to attend the meeting. But he had nearly dropped off his chair when Vader, on the suggestion of Captain Riboson to cut expenses by omitting the emergency rations from the escape pods, had insisted that they were to be adequately provisioned. The men should have a chance to survive, that’s what escape pods were there for. Piett’s immediate reaction had been to think: So you can strangle them personally. He was pretty certain Vader had picked that up. The Dark Lord had stared at Piett for a few moments, or at least made the impression of stainge at him. And he had nearly had a heart attack.
Whatever Vader's ‘real’ reasons were, and perhaps he really wanted his troops to survive, now Piett was happy that the emergency rations were there. The one he had opened was some kind of vegetable stew, warming up automatically as he removed the seal.
The blue light continued to blink. If it was falling towards something with enough gravity to catch a passing escape pod it must be either the moon the Death Star was circling or the battle station itself. He hoped it was the moon, the shield around the Death Star would destroy the escape pod. He wished there were some kind of a viewport or a screen where he could see what was going on outside. Once more he studied the displays but there was still nothing he could do, except wait.
He picked up the remains of the emergency ration and continued his dinner. He tried to enjoy the meal, but he was too tense to actually do it. It was not the best premise for a relaxed meal to expect every second that one’s transporting device would accidentally bump into the shield of some over-sized battle station.
He couldn’t stop wondering whether he would have time to notice that he was dying. Hitting the shield would disintegrate the pod, but would that mean all of it at once? He could envision the shield slowly dissolving the pod, eating away at the hull, so for a few moments he would be able to see down onto the surface of the battle station before he would vaporize as well. His stomach contracted violently at this image. Stop thinking like that, he told himself. At least dying in this way would save the family funeral costs. He put the remnants of his dinner on the bench next to him.
A jolt shook the escape pod, and a second blue light appeared next to the first one indicating that the first parachute had opened. So the pod was falling towards the moon not the Death Star after all. Thank the gods.
Piett contemplated the scanty remains of the vegetable stew but decided that his stomach would definitely take no more food at the moment. Now the problem was what to do with the rest. There was no waste-container in the escape pod. Well, he should not have to wait too long before he was picked up. If the escape pod survived landing on the moon below.
By now Piett had the distinct feeling of falling, the moon’s gravity made itself felt beyond the artificial one of the escape pod. He had the impression the pod was not falling straight but was being buffeted by something, wind probably. With his luck it would probably be raining down there.
He wished he had at least a vague idea where he was going. But of course this moon had been just another lump of matter in space he was passing by, or was supposed to have passed by. If he had tried to gather information on every inhabitable planet, moon or whatever they went by he would not have time to do his job properly and then he would have found himself choking on the floor in no time at all. He would find out soon enough what the moon was like.
Two more jolts indicated that the remaining two parachutes had opened to break the fall of the escape pod. It must be close to the ground. Piett sat back on the bench, brace for impact.
The falling feeling was reduced by the extra parachutes, but otherwise nothing happened. Then just as Piett relaxed something hit the bottom of the escape pod throwing it to one side where it hit against something else. The artificial gravity in the pod stayed the same, telling Piett’s sense of balance that the floor of the pod was still down, but the tumbling descent of the pod sent completely different messages to his brain. Another bump sent him falling from the bench, accompanied by the remains of the emergency ration.
Whatever was the escape pod going down through? It was surely slowing down, but was still buffeted around by some obstacles. As his head was conveniently near to the floor anyway, he pressed his ear to the floor in a desperate attempt to hear what the pod was hitting, but of course no sound came through the massive floor-plates.
Then finally, thankfully the pod came to a halt.
Piett remained prostrate on the floor for a few moments, waiting for his sense of balance to calm down. The remains of his dinner had spread nicely across the floor, but at least only on the floor and not all over his uniform. He could indeed imagine better things than being hauled in front of the Dark Lord of the Sith with vegetable stew smeared all over his jacket.
So, there we are, he thought wryly. My escape pod and me
With a sigh he pushed himself up and got to his feet, rather shakily to his intense embarrassment. Well, all his nightmare scenarios of being shot down by Rebel fighters or fried by the Death Star’s impregnable shield had not come true.
He should really stop complaining about his luck. After all he had lived far longer as an Admiral than he had expected. But getting your promotion in as drastic a fashion as he had was not exactly the thing that made you look forward to long years in office and a quiet retirement thereafter. Whatever happened it was time to get up and face the world outside. Straightening his jacket he walked to the hatch of the escape pod and activated the opening mechanism. With a sharp zzt the door slip open and revealed the view of the moon’s surface.
Piett sighed. He should have known. At least the bouncing descent of the escape pod should have made it pretty obvious what he was going to see at the end of his journey. Gigantic trees, left, right and in the middle and as far as the eye could see. Not that this was particularly far but he had this strange premonition that this was not just some tiny little spot of huge trees but a forest stretching over most of the planet.
He remained standing inside the escape pod, looking at all the greenery outside. Just like home, right? Though those were different trees. He was pretty certain that none of the species growing around here was to be found on Pokrovsk. This was an altogether different forest than the ones they had at home. It seemed to be darker and very monotonous. He could distinguish only three different kinds of trees from where he was standing and that in a place that was obviously completely wild. But after all he was not here to admire the scenery.
With a determined step he emerged from the escape pod, standing or rather posturing in front of it, just in case some Imperial troops were watching him. There might as well be, there was a base on the moon, after all. And there might be others who like him had been stranded in between these trees as a result of the battle raging on above.
He might have spoiled the impression by loitering inside the pod, looking out like a frightened child. Perhaps he should counteract the impression by claiming the moon for the Empire. Well, that had been done of course as soon as the first troops were landed on the surface. He doubted that the moon was ever officially claimed. The Emperor probably thought that the entire universe belonged to him and there were just bits he did not bother about or send troops to.
Piett looked around, taking in the small bushes of undergrowth, the gigantic tree trunks and the grasses and ferns between. There was a surprising lack of life in the forest. There were insects flying around, a small swarm circling around one bush just a few yards away but there was no sign of any larger animals around. Of course, they could be somewhat startled by the descent of the escape pod.
He turned around and looked at the metal sphere. One of the parachutes was draped over it like some kind of a cap, the others were entangled in the branches of the trees through which they had crashed. A couple of larger branches had been broken off by the pod.
The forest was quite dense, the branches of the trees crossed each other, allowing him only to see patches of sky. He doubted that the men picking him up would come by air. There was no chance they could land here, only if they blasted their way clear. They would probably send some ground-vehicle. Perhaps one of those AT-AT monsters. He had seen them in the hangars of his ship but he had never been in one of them, that was after all the territory of the army. How one was to get into their bellies from the ground was a mystery to him, perhaps they had rope-ladders. Well, that was not his problem after all.
Slowly he walked around the escape pod, looking for any sign of activity among the trees, troops or animals, but nothing moved there. This was strange. There should at least be birds. On Pokrovsk there would be the ever present Cerrecks flitting from tree to tree and inspecting everything. They would be some inside the escape pod by now. But on Pokrovsk he would be surrounded by a dozen wood-cutters who would not be very happy about the damage he had caused to the trees.
So, he would have to wait once more. How long it would take the troops to retrieve him depended on his exact position and how soon the battle developed. There had been some fighting on the planet’s surface but that should be over by now.
Piett stepped back into the escape pod and sat down on the bench. He stared at the rounded ceiling of the pod. He hated waiting, his mind always started to produce fantasies of what could possibly go wrong. The emergency signal might not work.
Damn. Stop it!
Perhaps he should recite poems to himself or start to count. Backwards from one million. This sounded like a reasonable idea but after nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand-nine-hundred and ninety-three he decided that this was just too stupid. He would rather think about Vader strangling him.
Sometimes he thought that he should not be so upset by that particular idea. It was a thought that never left his mind for long, by now he should be used to it. But he was not. And particularly now, when the event he envisaged was probably approaching rapidly.
There was just no way he could excuse his actions or rather his inaction. And he should not start to go into a hectic litany of what else was responsible for the fact that he had lost the entire bridge-crew. Like the ridiculous positions of the shield generators, or the fact that some of the cannons and guns protecting the bridge had not been activated on his order.
He hoped he would not start to whine. It wouldn’t do any good anyway. Quite the contrary.
Captain Belton had tried to beg for his life – and soon wished he had not. As did Piett, who had been unfortunately reporting some developments about tracking down Rebel bases when Captain Belton had been brought to Darth Vader to answer for the two Star Destroyers and three cruisers he managed to lose in an encounter with Rebels off Tynna.
Piett had inwardly cringed all through the lengthy explanation Belton had given. Ok, there had been some unfortunate coincidences but most of the blame had to be put squarely on Belton’s shoulders. Vader had stood silently and nearly motionless through the Captain’s rambling. While Piett had silently urged Belton to shut up the distressed Captain had just continued talking. He had gone through his explanation three times till he realized that Vader would not interrupt him and stopped talking in mid-sentence. After what seemed to be another eternity of silence, Vader had just recapitulated that under Captain Belton’s command, five ships with their entire crews had been lost, his Star Destroyer had pulled out of the battle and he had sought safety in hyperspace.
It was then that Belton had begged for his life. He even went down on his knees. Vader had not bothered to answer or even listen to his pleadings. Returning his attention apparently to Piett he had demanded that his second-in-command continue with the report, while he had slowly squeezed the life out of Captain Belton. Unfortunately, Piett had taken a step back when Belton had been brought in so now he had a particularly good view of the dying man. Vader had taken his time, not only squeezing the Captain’s windpipe shut more slowly than usual but also crushing his skull. Piett had somehow managed to go through the report without longer gaps but when blood started to ooze out of Belton’s nose and ears Piett’s voice had forsaken him for a few moments. The Captain had not finished dying by the time Piett had ended his report and was dismissed by the Dark Lord. Once Piett had reached the corridor outside the office he had started to shake so violently that he had to lean against the wall to keep upright. Only with great effort he had managed neither to throw up or to start screaming. Never before had he wished so fervently that he had stayed on Pokrovsk and spent his life filling the shelves of his father’s shop. What was even more scary was that he knew Vader was well aware of the state he was in.
Piett took a deep breath and slowly unfolded his hands. He flexed his fingers that ached from the pressure he had involuntarily put on them while he reminisced on this happy memory of his life as an Imperial officer. He just had to keep this particular one in mind, should he feel tempted to talk his way out of the responsibility for whatever happened to the Executor after he had abandoned her. No begging for mercy and no lengthy explanations, no explanations at all, only if Vader was asking for one.
He had to do something, otherwise he would go out of his mind sooner or later and end up begging for his life despite his better judgment. First he could try and remove the last of the vegetable stew from the floor of the escape pod, then he could try to gather the parachutes together. If they took longer to find him he might use them as a bed.
It was getting dark by the
time Piett had made three neatly folded piles of the parachutes. One of
them had ripped when Piett had pulled it off the branches of the tree
it was entangled in.
He was aching all over, particularly his hands and back felt sore, but considering what he had been through these were truly minor inconveniences. He had taken a pain-killer he found in the first aid kit of the escape pod, and could already feel it taking effect.
He made a round around the escape pod, keeping it well in view just in case some rescue team would appear. There were some signs of life on the moon after all; he found blaster energy cells, a few footprints which seemed to belong to a stormtrooper patrol, and something that seemed to be a toy-version of a spear. Looking at the crude construct he wondered whether the patrols spent their time making toys.
The spear gave him an idea of what he could do to spend the time while waiting. The folding knife Rilla had given him as a farewell present when he had left after his shore-leave a few years ago was as usual in the inner pocket of his jacket. It was flat enough not to show through but he had always wondered whether Darth Vader still knew about it, after all he seemed to know everything else going on around him. However, nobody had complained and so he had carried it around with him more or less constantly ever since.
Dropping the rickety spear he continued his circle around the escape pod looking for a nice piece of wood. He finally found a chunk of wood which seemed to have been chipped of a tree by blaster fire.
Finishing his round he returned to the escape pod, placed one of the folded parachutes in front of the hatch, switched on the internal lighting of the pod and settling on the parachute started to whittle away at the wood. It was quite soft and slowly the form of a Weekie took shape under his hands. Piett never thought about what he wanted to make. The form usually emerged on its own, as if it had been inside the wood already and he was just cutting off the material around it. He had been ridiculed enough about this hobby but it kept his hands busy and his mind mercifully off grim fantasies about the future. Every sound coming out of the forest made him look up, expecting some Imperial troops to appear – but nobody came to pick him up.
The sky above slowly darkened completely and he could see a few stars appearing. Now and then shooting stars were passing over the trees. A lot of them actually – too many. And some of them were big.
These were no shooting stars, Piett realized, it was debris from the battle, parts of the destroyed ships, attracted by the planet’s gravity and incinerated when entering its atmosphere.
Piett placed the half-finished wooden bird on the bench inside the escape pod and stepped away from the light falling out of its door.
The patches of sky he could see were full of flashing lights. There must be quite a lot of wrecks out there.
Then a coloured light flashed up in the sky. Fireworks? What the hell was going on up there? Somebody was burning fireworks and he did not think that the Emperor would celebrate his victory by having a fireworks display on the moon. He wished he could see more. Those damned trees were obscuring his vision.
Of course, he could do something to see better. Slowly he folded the knife and put it back into its pocket, buttoning the jacket over it. He had to find out what was happening.
With a last look at the escape pod, hoping that if his rescuers appeared just now they would have the sense to wait for his return, he walked over to the nearest of the trees. When he left Pokrovsk to join the navy he had thought he would get away from the trees but apparently he just could not.
Leaning his head back he stared up the massive trunk and the branches separating from it in very regular intervals. This shouldn’t be a problem. Of course you haven’t been doing this for quite some time, he reminded himself. His father always told him that tree-climbing was a skill you never forgot, just like swimming. He would find out whether that was true, wouldn’t he.
The lowest branch was just over his head and he had no problem pulling himself up. The uniform was a bit tight, but then one generally did not climb trees in the Imperial navy. Not that real acrobatics were necessary on this tree, the branches were quite solid and within easy distance of each other. It was more like climbing a ladder. At least the first half or two thirds of the tree. After that it became a bit more difficult. The branches became thinner and denser, at places Piett had difficulties finding a way through. The way down would be something of a challenge.
But he discovered that his father had been right – as usual. Piett still knew how to climb trees, even in the dark.
The tree ended rather abruptly, its trunk thinning rapidly at the top. Standing on two frighteningly slim branches with his right arm wrapped around the trunk he could push the upper branches aside and get a view of the sky above.
There were fireworks, and some ships flying above from which the rockets were being fired. They were Rebel ships. He should have known. For a time he stared at the small four-winged ships passing repeatedly over some spot of the forest some miles away. Somehow his mind refused to accept the implications of this display.
The Rebels had won the battle.
So there would be no Imperial walker picking him up at the escape pod. In fact it seemed he was permanently marooned on this desolate moon. He could of course surrender to the Rebels. They tried to present themselves as the good side in this conflict, humane and forgiving. Piett just doubted that this clemency would stretch as far as to include the second-in-command of the Imperial navy. As a matter of fact he was not quite sure whether he believed in the benevolent image the Rebels spread about themselves. He had lost enough comrades to know very well that the rebels killed as ruthlessly as the Empire to win.
Then the main realization of what he saw – or rather did not see – forced itself on his mind: there was no Death Star.
Piett blinked at the emptiness of sky above him. Surely he had not drifted so far off course that the gigantic sphere of the battle station was hidden beyond the moon. If it were still there, the Rebels would not have anything to celebrate either.
The Death Star was gone. Destroyed.
The Emperor and Darth Vader had been on the Death Star. That was of course the reason why the Rebellion had decided to risk an attack.
Piett was not certain about this but he thought that the Death Star had been protected by a shield from a generator on this moon. The Rebels must have managed to demolish the shield and then somehow destroy the Death Star. The battle station might have been operational as far as the superlaser was concerned but with the main structure yet to be finished its defenses were probably weak – and it definitely could not go into hyperspace even if the hyperdrive had been functional as well, not in the unfinished state it was.
A station as big as the Death Star would not be destroyed within a few minutes. There would have been some time between the loss of the shields and the breaking apart of the station. Everybody in his right mind would have had time to get off it.
Piett was not quite sure whether he would regard the Emperor as being in his right mind, but surely he was not so stupid as to want to die along with his newest folly. Piett was somewhat surprised at this thought. He had not been certain about the efficiency of the Death Star the first time the Emperor had decided to build it but the second time … there had been some nagging doubt about the sensibility of that action. A doubt which he had hid very successfully from himself. Having a senior officer who could read minds, or nearly read minds, it was wise to bury one’s doubts deep into one’s subconscious.
Whatever the state of mind of the Emperor was like, Vader at least would have made sure he was out of there before the thing blew up. He had after all managed to be outside the first Death Star when that turned into a load of space-dust.
Piett knew it was true. The Death Star was gone, the Imperial navy defeated, but he just could not believe it.
Suddenly he realised that he must have been staring at the empty sky for a considerable period of time. The Rebel ships had stopped their flights, the fireworks had stopped. There were still masses of shooting stars. The remains of the Death Star probably.
Piett stared out into the night. Had Darth Vader reached the Executor? Had he taken the remnants of the Imperial fleet to safety? Somehow Piett could not envisage Vader running away but then … you could not envisage the rebellion to win either.
Tonight everything was possible. The Lord of the Sith would be not pleased to find the bridge of the fleet’s flagship destroyed. Perhaps he should try and get used to the idea of spending the rest of his life on this moon.
That thought made him wish he would be picked up by some Imperial ships and strangled by Darth Vader. If he had to live and die among trees he would rather do so on Pokrovsk, not on this forsaken moon. There, at least, was his family. He could go out drinking with Rilla. It was, however, a bit late to reconsider his career choices.
He looked around, trying to figure out where the Rebels were based. There were some lights shining through the trees in the distance. At some distance from the cluster of lights, thin wafts of smoke rose out of the trees. The Rebel base must be only about five miles away. If he did not want to be found by them he should move away from them.
Leaving the escape pod would of course mean that he could not be found, should the Imperial navy find the time to look for survivors.
Slowly he began to climb down the tree.
The Rebellion had won the battle of Endor. They had destroyed the second Death Star. Perhaps the Emperor was dead. But even if he was not the events would create havoc throughout the Empire. Word would spread about the defeat and quite a few planets might join the Rebellion, not longer afraid of the invincible Imperial navy. The Rebellion had shown that they could defeat whatever the Emperor threw against them.
There were probably a few senior members of the government who had long thought that the Emperor had outlived his usefulness and would try to take over. Considering everything it was a surprise that this had not happened earlier. The Emperor and Darth Vader would definitely have better things to do than search for lost officers. Perhaps surrendering to the Rebels was not such a bad idea after all.
It was only when he jumped from the lowest branch onto the ground that Piett realized that he had climbed down the tree without thinking of what he was doing. Some things you never forget, he thought.
He wandered over to the escape pod. The light shining out of its open hatch was very welcoming. For a few moments he stopped to listen to the sounds of the forest. There was more movement now but it still seemed strangely quiet.
He slumped down on the parachute, automatically taking his knife out and continuing to whittle at the weekie. He had half thought of giving it to Matriona as a birthday present. Now he would have plenty of time to make more of these but no one to give them to. Only Rebel soldiers. Please don’t shoot me, I will give you this nice wooden bird. Ha! Just when he thought his life could not possibly get any worse it did.
He finished the weekie and was himself quite pleased with it. It looked as dishevelled and fluffy as the real thing. Just the feathers on its wings were smooth and firm. He stood it inside the escape pod, reduced the lights to a mere shimmer and wrapping himself in two of the parachutes lay down to sleep.
Chapter 4: In which Admiral Piett encounters the indigenous species of the planet and meets another survivor of the battle.
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