Piett woke up when
raindrops started to fall on his face. He stared grimly at the grey sky
above. Rain was really what he needed now. It perfectly corresponded
with his mood.
With a deep sigh Piett got to his feet. So far there were only a few heavy raindrops emerging from the grey clouds but it looked as if soon enough it would be pouring. This place seemed to be even more like Pokrovsk than he had thought so far. He stretched, trying to ease the aching muscles in his back. His body was still complaining of the rough treatment of yesterday, but it was bearable. Compared to his lousy situation the aches and pains were negligible.
Gathering the parachutes together he heaved them and then himself into the escape pod. At least here he would stay dry.
The thought of Pokrovsk had started a string of disquieting deliberations – the full implications of his being marooned on this dreadful moon struck him only now. The effect all this must have on his family. The imperial fleet had been defeated, the bridge of the Executor had been destroyed … They must think he was dead. But then, of course, they could not be sure about that. There was no body – of course not, you idiot, he interrupted his train of thoughts.
For his sisters and their families, if they managed to get any information whatsoever, he would be missing in action, presumed dead. At least he had a high enough rank that his fate might be of interest to the news. Depending on what else had happened out there. If the Emperor had been on the Death Star when it blew the chaos which would engulf the Empire would probably give them other things to report than the uncertain whereabouts of one insignificant Imperial officer.
He wondered whether Minna would be worried as well. They had not spoken a word ever since their father’s funeral but … she was still his sister. Vara and Rilla would be really distressed. In Rilla’s case ‘distressed’ might be even somewhat of an understatement. She would be sick with worry – and probably annoying as many Imperial officers she could possibly contact trying to find out what happened. Once, just after he had become Captain of the Executor, the ship had taken quite a battering in a skirmish with the Rebellion (thank the gods, he had been following the orders of Ozzel at that time) and Rilla had somehow managed to bully and talk her way through several Imperial offices until she was given a link to his office on the Executor. Piett had had a fit when he found that the important message that had made him leave his post was his sister asking him whether he was alright. He had made her swear she would never ever again try to reach him on the ship. It was pure luck that neither his absence from his post nor her message had been noticed by his superior officers. But given the circumstances she would probably not keep her promise now.
Piett sighed. Staring out into the drizzle he wondered what he should do now. The Rebels had a base on the moon. He could try to find that and ask for … help? Political asylum? Mercy? Probably not a good idea. But after the battle had been lost, the chances of being picked up by Imperial forces were virtually non-existent.
However, there would be other Imperials stranded on the moon just like himself. He could not possibly be the only man to come down here. It was likely that in the course of the battle, some of the Star Destroyers had been destroyed and their escape pods must have ended on the moon as his had. There would be TIEs with no ships to dock on to refuel, they would have to land somewhere when they ran out of oxygen and power – and the only somewhere around here was the moon the Death Star had orbited around.
This meant, Piett thought, that he had his work cut out for him: he would try and collect as many survivors as he could find. Admittedly, he did not have a clue what he would do once he had gathered the men but if there was a way to get off this moon – the more they were the more likely it was somebody would think of something.
It might be that another survivor would able to tell him what happened after he had to leave the Executor.
After eating another emergency ration, some kind of meat pasty with dumplings, he went through all the storage units of the escape pod again. He found a backpack, though not a particularly useful one; it was not big enough to put all the remaining emergency rations inside or take anything else with him. Piett randomly choose six of the containers, stuffed two blasters on top of them and all the energy cells he could find. On top of that came the wooden Weekie. He also added the first aid kit, it might come in handy, if some of the men stranded here were injured, slightly.
There was, however, neither a tent nor a sleeping bag anywhere. The occupants of the pod might not starve or get killed by whatever wildlife the planet they ended up on had in store, but they were forced to sleep on the ground. That must be particularly pleasant when one was a stormtooper, Piett imagined. But then, the theory was probably that they would only to spend a few hours or maybe one night wherever they were stranded before being picked up.
He shoved a few spare energy cells into his pockets and strapped two more blasters to his belt, feeling slightly awkward about being so obviously armed. Of course, he had gone target shooting, like everybody else in the navy, but commanding officers were not supposed to get into hand-to-hand combat and so were usually unarmed.
By now the rain outside the pod was pouring down heavily. The trees did not give any protection against the deluge.
With a heartfelt sigh Piett stepped out of the dry round of the escape pod, closing the hatch behind him. So he would get wet. He had survived worse – like being an Admiral for ten months. After a few moments hesitation he struck out in the opposite direction from where he thought the Rebel camp was. Not only had he no intention of getting captured or probably shot on sight but the probability of finding fellow Imperials – fellow Imperials still at large – was greater in the opposite direction.
Hiking through the woods
had never been one of his favourite spare time activities, doing it in
the rain was definitely right at the bottom of this list. The fact that
he had no idea how to locate other survivors did nothing to cheer him
He looked for any signs indicating that others had passed, a task made somewhat difficult by the continuous rain. He found some signs of life, though not of the kind he was looking for. There were tracks of what seemed to be a bipedal animal, not very large, between the trees.
Then he detected some sort of wooden structure in a cluster of trees. He could not see clearly what it was, as the view was obscured by the lower branches of the trees – and the rain splattering on his face when he looked up – but it was artificial, something like walkways connected several of the trees.
He was still staring at what had to be some kind of habitation when something poked his leg. Startled he looked down, irrationally expecting a weekie begging for attention, to find a furry creature, the bipedal animal whose tracks he had found earlier, prodding his leg with a miniature spear.
Piett took a step backwards. So the spear he had found earlier had been one made by these … beings.
This one looked at him with its big, glassy eyes, a piece leather decorating its head. It bared its blunt teeth and uttered a string of chittering noises, waving its weapon, if it could be termed a weapon at all, at Piett. The creature just reached the level of Piett’s belt. After more chattering it took a step closer to Piett and poked its spear into his leg again.
“Will you stop that!” Piett exclaimed, surprised at the creature’s action.
The furry beast jumped back, waving its spear again.
If these creatures had actually built the construction in the trees, they should also have developed some kind of intelligence. And any intelligent species should know that poking an Imperial officer with a makeshift spear was not exactly healthy.
For a few moments the strange animal and the admiral stared at each other. The creature, intelligent in some way, Piett assumed, started to utter some chattering noises again.
It’s probably asking me to surrender, Piett thought.
Obviously it was dumb enough to think it had a chance against an armed man, twice its size. It took a step forward and tried to poke Piett’s leg again, but before the stone tip of the spear even came close to him, Piett had grabbed it and twisted it out of the creature’s paws, hands. If he would not feel outright stupid he would blast the annoying little bugger to kingdom come, but shooting a small, furry animal – a small, furry, unarmed animal now – seemed just to be too much of an overkill.
The creature seemed to be somewhat startled at his actions. As far as Piett could determine, a expression of grief appeared on its face as he broke the spear in two throwing the halves on the ground. The thing had been so rickety it would probably not have done much harm even had the creature tried to actually stab Piett.
“Now listen, you silly…” he started, only with difficulty resisting the urge to shake his finger at the furry beast. It made him think of an unruly child who did not know that there are some grown-ups one should not annoy.
The creature took a step backward and pulled something out of a leather pouch hanging around its shoulders. It was, Piett realized to his amazement, a sling into which the creature fitted a sizeable stone. That was just too much.
With a large step he was at the furry beast’s side. He twisted the sling out of its paw with one hand and grabbed it by the scruff of its neck with the other. Getting hold of a good handful of fur and skin, he lifted it off the ground. – Damn, it was heavy.
The thing started to squeal but shut up very quickly when Piett shook it.
He held it at arm’s length and looked at it sternly. There was a certain amount of bizarreness about the situation but the fact that he had seven nephews and nieces helped him to keep a serious face even in the most ridiculous circumstances.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Of course the thing would not understand him, but if it was intelligent it would get the message. “Just let me tell you, poking Imperial officers is something you should not do.” He hoped that nobody was listening now. He gave the furry beast another shake. “Never do it again.”
He put it down on the ground again, letting go of it just before its feet were on the ground. It seemed to have understood the message and scuttled away into the undergrowth.
Piett shook his arm. The critter had been quite heavy and apparently he was not in good enough shape to have it dangling from his hand for too long. At least this should have taught it a lesson. After all not all Imperial soldiers were as reluctant to shoot as he was. The next time he would at least kick it, or its fellow natives of this delightful place.
He dropped the sling, which was probably quite effective if used skillfully, and wiped his hand, which was covered with long, wet hairs, on his equally wet trousers. Without another look at the construction above he continued his walk.
There was something odd about this encounter. The Empire did have, or used to have, a base on this moon, and stormtroopers were probably not particularly eager to be poked with rickety spears. These creatures should have learned to stay away from the extra-planetary beings by now. Scaring the natives had always been a prime objective of the Empire wherever it got a foothold. Piett grinned mirthlessly. At least he had managed that alright, scaring the natives.
Slowly the rain thinned to a drizzle and after some time, Piett assumed about an hour after his encounter with the furry native, it stopped completely. The sky, what he could see of it, was still covered with sickly looking grey clouds.
Most of the clouds were probably not really clouds at all but debris of the battle that had raged above the moon, clogging up the upper layers of the atmosphere. There was a lot of debris out there, the entire Death Star for one. The explosion he assumed had ripped the structure apart and reduced the battle station to millions of tiny particles that now settled in the higher stratosphere, preventing sun-light to come through. The temperature on this moon would drop significanty. This would be a very grim place to be for a long time to come. Just the place he wanted to be stuck on.
With growing frustration he continued his journey through the woods, trying to think of a way he could get some clues which direction he should take. The other survivors could be anywhere. If there would only be a way he could send out a message. The stormtroopers had their com-links inside their helmets, as had the pilots and the officers on the ground were issued with com-links worn around their wrists. Only people like him were completely without any kind of communication equipment. They were supposed to stick around their stupid escape pods and wait to be picked up, but in a situation like this he was more likely to be picked up by Rebels if he stayed at the pod than by his people. He assumed the Rebels would check out Imperial escape pods when they found them. They would be stupid if they did not.
For a moment he considered lighting a fire to attract the attention of other survivors in the forest, but again, he was more likely to be noticed by Rebel forces than by his own.
No matter how he hated it, the fact remained there was no way in which he could find out where other Imperials may be. The only way he had a chance was to keep on walking and keep on hoping.
He sighed and continued his trek through the dripping forest. Straight on – as much as this was possible – was as good a direction as any.
Just when his clothes had started to dry his path was intersected by a small river. It was meandering at the edge of the forest, on the other side a clearing covered with smaller bushes and a few young trees opened – and between the bushes sat, gleaming grey and black amidst the greenery, a TIE-interceptor.
The sight made Piett feel almost euphoric for a second. The pointed solar panels and the small cockpit hanging between them were such a familiar sight, a piece of the ordinary world he had left just the day before. His elation was probably coming too early. There was no way he could tell yet whether the interceptor was still working, whether the pilot was still alive and present, but somehow the ship made him hope again that there was a chance he would get off this damned moon.
Piett sighed and plunged into the stream.
The water was not very deep, but its ground was muddy, his boots nearly disappeared in the soft, brown dirt. Carefully so as not to lose his boots in the muck he crossed the stream climbing out on his hands and knees on the other side. He stared at his filthy boots, filled up to the top with water. No that it mattered.
The TIE-interceptor was just sitting there, there was no movement either in it or anywhere near by.
Piett approached it carefully, looking around to see whether the pilot was somewhere close by. Judging from the marks on the ground, the pilot had climbed out of the ship but had not left its immediate vicinity. Piett stepped next to the interceptor’s viewport, trying to get a glimpse on whatever was going on inside, but it was too dark for him to see. He knocked against the duroplass. Nothing happened. But Piett was sure that the pilot was in there. He sighed and knocked again, hard enough to make his knuckles hurt.
For a few moments the interceptor remained completely motionless, then the hatch on its top opened. The pilot, still in his uniform but minus his helmet, stared down on Piett. After a few seconds he remembered to salute, nearly falling back into the cockpit when he let go of the edge of the hatch. They examined each other, Piett uncomfortably aware of the ragged state he and his uniform were in.
The pilot was very young, pale and dark-haired. He must be a pretty good pilot, otherwise he would be flying a fighter and not one of the interceptors.
“Will you come down.” Piett told the pilot, who immediately obeyed the order and climbed out of the cockpit, jumping down from the pylon. He stared at Piett, probably only now noticing the rank insignia on his uniform.
The pilot stood to attention. “Pilot Hookainen, Sir, second squadron on the Devastator.”
Piett nodded. “That’s Captain Valtari’s ship.” Valtari’s ship was almost entirely staffed with recruits from the Neevala Sector, and with a name like Hookainen he was probably from the area.
The pilot nodded. “Yes, Sir.”
Hookainen swallowed nervously. “The Devastator was badly damaged during the battle and fled after the destruction of the Death Star. I tried to dock on one of the other Destroyers but they were either boarded, destroyed or left the battle. My oxygen was running low and I had to land down here.”
The pilot looked straight ahead past Piett's right shoulder while he delivered this explanation, obviously expecting to be reprimanded for his actions but Piett did not feel he was in a position to criticise anybody.
“Your ship is still working?”
“Yes, Sir.” Hookainen’s eyes returned to Piett’s face.
“Very good.” Piett stepped to the pylon an pulled himself up on it. When he looked back on to pilot, standing forlorn on the ground, he knew exactly what he was thinking. “I am not going to run away with your ship.”
Hookainen was still staring at him with a desperate expression on his face. He would not do anything until he was told to. Gods, that sounded familiar. Of course not all the soldiers were as submissive but most would be considerably awed when they had an admiral dropping in on them. Even if it was an unshaved admiral with mud caked, water-filled boots – and particularly if the said admiral sported two blasters.
“Have you tried to contact others with your com-link?”
A joyful expression, nearly a grin, appeared on the pilot’s face. “Yes, Sir. I have contacted a group of Stormtroopers from the Annihilator. Their transport’s fuel tanks were damaged, unfortunately. They are on their way here.”
“Good work,” Piett said. “Anybody else?”
The young man was certainly an asset. His com-link as well.
“I had contact with a few pilots earlier, but some of them were shot down, a few of the others captured and I think some have landed somewhere out of the reach of my com-link. I cannot make contact with the stormtroopers themselves. My link can only pick up other ships’ signals or officers’ links I’m afraid.” Hookainen became more animated as his report went on. “There was something odd I picked up. I was trying to figure out what it was…”
“Very good work, Hookainen. Let’s get back to that.”
Hookainen grinned at Piett. It was not every day a lowly pilot was commended by an admiral, after all. He climbed back on the pylon and into the cockpit of the interceptor. Piett stood up on the pylon and leaned over the hatch. Hookainen was fiddling around with some of the buttons. He managed to enhance the com-link’s output in his helmet, which was sitting upside down on the console in front of him. The noise blearing out of the speakers must be deafening when one was wearing the helmet. Perhaps this setting was for the already half-deaf pilots.
For some time Piett couldn’t make any sense of what he was hearing. There was banging noises and general clattering and jabbering. Then he realized that some of the sounds were the same chattering noises the furry animal had made. What the hell…
“Oh my god.” Somebody said. “My god. Oh no. I’m going to be sick.”
“Shut up.” Another voice emerged from the link.
Piett stared at Hookainen who looked as confused as he felt.
“God help me.” That was the first voice again.
“If you start praying I am going to …”
Something silenced the second speaker and the link transmitted the burbling language the natives of this moon used.
“Sir, the link is set to transmit only. It cannot receive messages.”
They both knew what that meant. The officer whose link they could tap on in was captured. He hoped that somebody would be able to track the transmission and rescue him. Either the man did not know what had been going on or he was truly desperate.
“Can you track it?”
Hookainen nodded and started to fiddle with his instruments again.
“Sweet lord.” The first voice emerged from the link again, more whining than before.
“If you can’t watch, just shut your fucking eyes.” That was a third voice. How many people were there?
More chattering and the person who spoke last said in an irritated voice: “Ok, ok. I will shut up.”
“Got it.” Hookainen said. “It’s coming from approximately five miles off in that direction.” He pointed in exactly the direction Piett had just come from. “And…” He looked a bit confused now.
“Don’t tell me. About thirty feet off the ground.”
“Are you psychic or what?” Hookainen blushed crimson after this comment escaped him. “Sorry, Sir.”
“Working under the Dark Lord of the Sith does seem to have strange side-effects.” Piett said wryly. “But, no. I just passed under this thing about two hours ago.”
“O, sweet god. Help me…” A dull thud ended the sentence. For some time the only sound the link transmitted was some of the furry beasts speaking. They seemed to walk away from the link as the sound was becoming quieter.
“Is he dead?” A fourth voice said, more distant than the others were from the link.
“No, just unconscious.” The second voice again. The owner of it had a slight accent. “I am nearly grateful to the fuzzball for shutting him up.”
“I think we heard enough of this.” Piett felt a shiver running down his spine. Whatever was going on there… he was not sure, he wanted to know.
Hookainen switched the link off and looked at Piett expectantly. Now his senior officer was here, Hookainen did not have to make any decisions any more.
Piett rubbed his stubbly chin. “When do you think the stormtroopers you have contacted will be here?”
“I’m not certain, but I guess within the next three or four hours.”
There was actually not a lot to decide then. “Well. You stay here and wait for the troops to arrive. Try to contact more survivors if you can. I will set out and check what is going on there.”
The expression of intense relief on Hookainen’s face told Piett that the pilot had expected to be send out to rescue the captured men. It was tempting to stay here where it was relatively safe but Piett knew that he was the one who had seen the settlement or whatever in the trees before. He should be able to find it again without problems – unlike Hookainen, who would probably get lost in the woods.
“Yes, Sir.” the pilot said.
Piett jumped down on the ground. “Do you have a weapon?”
Somehow, Piett realized, the entire Imperial navy seemed to expect to win always, they were not equipped to be in a situation like this. He handed Hookainen, who had climbed out of the interceptor again, one of the blasters out of his backpack together with half a dozen energy cells and one of the emergency rations.
The pilot’s face lit up when he spotted the container. His “Thank you, Sir.” sounded very heartfelt.
TIE-interceptors obviously were not supposed to be stranded behind enemy lines.
“I will be returning here by tonight, I hope. You should be able to know what is going on if you listen in. And if I am successful we will contact you.”
Piett looked at the young man in his pilot’s outfit, holding the blaster in one hand and the emergency ration in the other, wondering just how many, many like him had died the day before. Then he turned to retract his steps to where he had encountered the furry creature.
“Sir.” Hookainen shouted after him. “Good luck.”
Without turning Piett waved to the pilot. Piett knew he would need all the luck he could get.
He nearly lost one of his boots on his way back across the river. On the other side he poured the water out of his boots and wrung out his socks. Not that it would do much good. Pilot Hookainen watched him from his place next to the interceptor, waving a final goodbye to him before Piett turned back into the forest.
Chapter 5: In which Mon Mothma discusses the events on the Death Star with Princess Leia.
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