The walk back to the habitation of the moon’s
natives took Piett a good two hours.
He had plenty of time to think about what was going on, up there in the trees. What had freaked out one of the captives so badly? There were at least four Imperial soldiers, at least one of them an officer. From the tone they used, they seemed to be of similar rank, but perhaps the strangeness of the situation made them talk more freely with each other than they would under normal circumstances. Something horrible was going on and they had been watching it.
Piett knew that he should try to figure out what to do once he got there, but that would depend so much on details he would only be able to judge when he was there.
The spot wher he encountered the furry creature was easy to find. The broken spear was still lying on the ground. The sling, however, was gone.
Piett found himself once again staring up at the wooden construct above him. The trees obscured most of the view of the village – or whatever it was – but at least it was not raining anymore.
None of the critters seemed to be on the ground to molest him. He was definitely not in the mood for being poked. Neither was he too keen on climbing up to the wooden structure.
Come to think of it, the furry thing had not actually looked as if it was a particularly good climber. If that was indeed a village of sorts, they should have some easier way to get up to it than climbing up the trees. However, any proper access would be guarded, at least he assumed it would be. To have surprise on his side would be a great advantage if he wanted to rescue his comrades. From what he had heard through the com-link, it was possible that these creatures would rather kill their prisoners than let them escape.
So, he would have to climb one of these bloody trees.
Slowly Piett walked around between the trees, trying to decide which of the giants he should climb. A tree that was not part of the structure above, but close enough for him to get there.
Some part of his mind wondered why he was bothering. He did not know what was going on up there. He did not even know for certain that the transmission had indeed come from this place. Perhaps he was at the wrong place, or they were all dead already. There was nobody here who could make him climb up a tree and find out, he could just turn and walk away.
Yes, and spend the rest of his life marooned on this rotten moon wondering whether he had left his comrades to a gruesome fate.
Who was he kidding anyway?
With a resigned sigh, Piett stared at the tree he had decided would be the best for his purposes. Come on, he told himself, you managed last night, you will manage again.
Unlike last night, the lowest branch of the tree was several feet over his head. Perhaps he should pick a different tree. But this one was situated best for his purposes. After glowering at the tree for a while, he put his boot on one of the thick roots and got a grip on the branch.
For a moment he stood there, his face against the rough bark of the tree, then he stepped down again, feeling immensely stupid.
He had to get up there with speed, otherwise he would be fumbling about a few inches from the ground for ages. Of course, this could mean, that he fell down on his backside, looking as ludicrous as he felt.
If you want to do something stop worrying about how you look and just get going.
He took a couple of steps backward, then he put his foot on the root again, grabbed hold of a hole in the bark – hoping there was no tree-dwelling poisonous snake living in there – and had just enough momentum to bring his other foot into a crevice in the tree and somehow, not very elegantly, brought himself up onto that lowest branch.
He pulled himself completely onto the branch, thinking that Rilla would probably have a fit of laughter had she watched him, but he was up that bloody branch, and his uniform was still in one piece. In a situation like this the state of his uniform was of course of minor importance, but he just did not fancy running around with his trousers split open at the back.
The subsequent climb was easier, though it had its moments. He slipped twice and once a branch he was holding on to broke off, but he managed to grip another one before he lost his balance. Finally he was at the level of the dwelling.
It was indeed inhabited by the furry creatures. Small huts nestled in the forks of the trees, walkways made out of roughly hewn wood and smaller branches connected them. Between three of the trees growing close together a platform was constructed as the village centre. Several of the natives were gathered there, some of them coming and going, some busy with different tasks.
Piett could not see what they were doing, what he could see was the helmet of a stormtrooper’s armour stuck on the roof-beam of a larger building on the side of the platform.
So, they had gotten their paws on at least one stormtrooper. Piett could not imagine how they had managed that without being shot, but the evidence was clear.
But where were the prisoners he and Hookainen had heard on the link?
He climbed higher, rounding the tree somewhat as he did so. The trunk was hiding him from the furry creatures, should they happen to look in his direction.
He had moved only a few yards, when he found what he was looking for; on a small platform, that had been obscured from his view by the nearest hut, sat a cluster of Imperial soldiers. Two were wearing the black uniforms of the army, four the green of the navy, one was clad only in the body-glove of a pilot’s outfit, as if he had not had enough time to get completely dressed, and the last wore the conspicuous white armour of a stormtrooper.
They sat huddled together in the middle of the platform, and Piett could well understand why, there were no railing of any description around the rickety structure and the drop must be at least thirty yards. The platform was detached from the rest of the village, it seemed a kind of bridge could be extended from the nearest walkway.
Piett stared at the miserable looking group – from the way they moved, or rather did not move, he judged they were tied up – wondering how best he could get over to them, without attracting the attention of the furry beasts.
A diversion would be convenient. But how could he distract them and rescue his comrades at the same time? It would be nice if he could start a fire somewhere. Fire was always a very effective distraction, never more so than when the target was a wooden structure high above the ground.
How could he start that damned fire?
The fire should not be too violent, otherwise there was danger of the entire structure collapsing before he had time to rescue the captives.
Perhaps he could use one of the energy cells, if he managed to hit one of those it should explode. But of course, he first had to plant it somewhere it would start a fire, for example on the roof of that large building, get to a safe distance, hit the stupid thing and all of that without being spotted. It was just not possible. Perhaps, there was something else he could use. Taking the backpack off his shoulders he started to rummage through it. Perhaps there was something he could use. Not the weekie of course, neither the emergency rations. Rather listlessly he rummaged through the first aid kit. It included a small bottle, just a thimble full, of alcohol. That should do the job. With a bit of bandage it would be a nice fire-starter.
But how could he get to the village?
He had selected the tree as it was larger than the ones the village was built on, its branches stretched over the huts. It would be possible to get over there on one of them, and drop down on one of the walkways.
Clambering along one of the branches would mean walking over the gap between the trees, and a nice long drop to the ground.
The first rule of climbing trees, Piett reminded himself, was never to think about falling down.
It was not a particularly good plan but it was a plan. Piett ripped off a piece of bandage, plugged it into the little bottle of alcohol and stuck the makeshift fire-starter into his belt. When he looked at the prisoners again, he saw that one of them had spotted him. One of the green-clad men was staring at him. He smiled, reassuringly as he hoped, and put a finger in front of his lips. Whatever the man thought, he did not react.
Piett proceeded to climb till he reached a horizontal branch. Soon he was hidden from the prisoners by another branch and then he started his balancing act.
Just don’t think about the drop, or what would happen when you actually slip. Easier thought than done. The branch was nice, solid and broad enough to carefully walk on it, but there was about thirty or forty yards of air below him. Just be careful and don’t rush. Halfway across he could hear the prisoners talking.
“… end like this.”
There was a pause, then a different voice said: “I think I am going mad.”
“Don’t we all wish,” another one commented. Piett thought that the voice was strangely familiar.
“You wont believe what I just thought I saw. – I must be having hallucinations.”
There was a long pause, then the one man who Piett was sure he knew, said: “now you’ve made us all curious. What did you hallucinate of? Pretty women?”
“I just thought I saw an Imperial officer in that tree.”
Piett was strongly tempted to try to catch a glimpse of the prisoners, see who the man was but this was not the time, or place, to do it. If he succeeded he would find out soon enough.
The branch became narrower and started to sway under his feet. He had reached the village, instead of empty air there were rickety walkways under him. If he fell now, he would just drop down there, if the damn things did not break through under his weight.
At least the inhabitants of the village had not noticed him so far. They were busy with whatever they were doing and no unusual commotion was visible. Very, very slowly Piett eased the little bottle out of his belt. He turned it upside down, so the strip of bandage was soaked in alcohol. Setting his blaster on high but short range, the setting at which the energy it produced would be enough to cut through thick durasteel, he held the muzzle at the fuse, thinking for a moment that he would look really stupid when the thing exploded in his hand. He pulled the trigger. With the familiar humm the blaster discharged a short burst and the bandage started to burn. For once not thinking twice, Piett hurled his makeshift fire-starter towards the larger hut and jumped off the branch on to the walkway below.
The huts he was hiding behind also blocked his view of what was happening, but he could hear the small explosion as the bottle burst into flames, followed by wild shrieks from the furry animals.
Quickly he changed the blaster to its normal setting, to kill, and charged over the walkway towards the prisoners. He could hear the turmoil behind him, but it would have been too much to ask that all of the village’s inhabitants were distracted by the fire.
Two of them emerged from between two huts, staring wide-eyed at him. They turned and headed towards the prisoners as well. Turning their backs on Piett was the last mistake they ever made. He was probably not a crack shot but those things were only a couple of yards away by now, and both ended up with smoldering holes in their fur. Jumping over their bodies he reached the bridge to the prisoners’ platform.
“Piett! I’ll be damned.”
Piett looked over to the prisoners. They were all staring at him as if he were some sort of apparition, those who could turn around to see him at least.
“Needa,” he heard himself say. Of course, the voice he thought he knew.
The bridge – just another piece of walkway – was raised like a small drawbridge. It was tied up with thick cords, no time to meddle with those. Piett just shot through the rope, causing the bridge to slam down onto the platform which wobbled precariously at the impact.
“Be careful, dammit!” Needa’s longish face showed a worried expression.
“No time for that.” Piett ran over the short bridge.
“Behind you!” The stormtrooper yelled.
Piett spun around, ducking and fired his blaster. The first burst went wide, missing the furry creature which was hurling a sling, his second shot, however, found its aim, hitting the beast right in the face. A second one thought it best to run but was, alas, too slow. For the moment no other showed its furry face.
When he turned back to the small cluster of Imperials they were still sitting as they had. Of course, they were still tied together. And his knife was in the inside pocket of his jacket. Stupid, stupid. He should have gotten that out before he started his attack. He also should have readied the blaster in the backpack. Now it was too late to worry about this. Piett crouched down next to the nearest prisoner, one of the navy people, put his blaster on the planks and started to unbutton his jacket.
The man looked at him thoroughly confused, and despite himself Piett felt a grin spreading over his face. Thanks again, Rilla, he thought. When he produced the little knife, the man’s expression changed to one of great relief. The prisoners were sitting so close together that Piett had to push them aside, squeezing through to get at their hands.
“Always the gentleman,” Needa commented.
Piett just hoped that none of the beasts showed up just now. At least the bonds were only rope, cut through quickly. Fortunately, as well, the man still had his wits about him, and once his hands were free immediately grabbed Piett’s blaster, or tried to. His hands, numb from being tied up, let the weapon slip twice before he could get a proper hold of it. In the mean time, Piett had also cut trough the rope around the man’s feet and started with the next man’s wrists, black uniform. Army then. He could hear the freed man start to fire. Just let there be not too many of those critters at once, Piett prayed silently, sawing away at the ropes. He paused long enough to dump his second blaster in the man’s lap and cut the rope around his feet. On to the next.
The platform swayed as the man he first cut loose rose to his feet.
“O my god.”
Piett looked up briefly to see who this religious man was. He was the other army officer, sitting next to the now standing one, a dark bruise on his temple. Yes, he must be the moaning man.
“Shut up.” The standing man sad angrily.
The second man Piett had cut loose pushed himself closer to the edge of the platform, shaking his hands, giving Piett enough room to squirm in the middle of the group. The next prisoner was the stormtrooper, the rope coiled between the parts of armour and difficult to get at, then there was another navy officer, the pilot, another navy officer, Capt Needa and the moaning man. Behind him, he could hear the two men firing again and again. The entire village seemed to be heading their way. Piett shoved his knife into the hand closest to him, the pilot’s, and got his backpack off his back. More blasters.
“A weekie?” Needa inquired incredulously when he spotted the wooden bird. Piett put on the planks next to the him.
Instead of answering Piett pushed a blaster into Needa’s hands.
With the men getting out of their bonds and starting to get to their feet, the little platform became very crowded and started to wobble.
“Move on!” Piett shouted. “Get off here.”
There was some commotion, and one of the army men, the moaning man, nearly fell off the edge only the quick intervention of his comrade saved him.
Then the blaster fire died down. “I think they finally got the message.” The navy officer said. The slight accent in his voice identified him as one of the people Piett had overheard earlier.
“Took them damn long enough.”
“Move on, will you.” Piett ordered and climbed back on his feet. He had handed out the blasters he had, which left him and five other men unarmed.
The navy officer with the accent rushed over the swaying bridge, firing in the direction the villagers had come from, followed by the others. Piett brought up the rear, his backpack in one hand, the wooden weekie in the other.
“Get over there, behind the hut.” He pointed to their right where he had dropped out of the tree above. Obediently the men ran to along the smaller walkway and stopped behind the rickety hut. They had to huddle together but there was a lot more room than on the platform and the walkway was not wobbling.
For a moment they all just stood there catching their breaths.
“What now?” The other army officer, not the moaning man said.
“Where did you get up here?” Piett asked in return. He could hardly imagine the furry things climbing up and down the trees all the time, leave alone with a bunch of imperial prisoners to carry as well.
“Over there. There is a walkway down.” The army officer pointed towards the central platform.
“How did you get up here?” the moaning person inquired.
“I told you!” one of the navy people said.
“Now is not the time for this. You two.” Piett indicated to the men with the blasters. “go in the front. Captain Needa, would you do the honour and bring up the rear?”
“It will be a pleasure, Admiral.” Needa saluted somewhat exaggeratedly. “But don’t you want to get your bird to safety first?”
Every one of the group stared first at Needa, than at the stupid wooden bird Piett still held in his hand. Hastily he shoved it back into his backpack, all too aware of the stares.
“Ok, now. Move along. We can chit-chat later.” Needa ordered.
They marched quickly through the village, now nearly deserted but for the bodies of the dead natives. There was quite a pile of them between the walkway to the prisoners’ platform and the central one, and a few hiding between and in the hovels. The hut Piett had tried to set on fire was still burning, but slowly.
“Your handiwork?” Needa walking a pace behind Piett inquired.
Piett was for a moment tempted to give a ironic answer but nodded instead. They had to get away from these nasty beasts first, then they could discuss their adventures in detail.
For example, how a bunch of furry animals had been able to capture a group of Imperial soldiers, a good deal of them officers. And, of course, what they knew of the battle.
Their descent from the village went without great disturbances. A few natives with more courage than wits tried to stop them but all ended up dead. Once they reached the ground Piett insisted that they should get away from the village before they stopped for a break. There was some grumbling but no open resistance.
Sometimes, Piett mused, the strict hierarchical order of the Imperial forces were an advantage, particularly when one was the person giving orders.
As highest ranking officer – and because he knew the way – Piett was leading the little mixed group.
The stormtrooper walking next to him suddenly removed his helmet, and after contemplating it for a few steps threw it into the undergrowth.
Piett was – as usual – surprised at just how young these men were. He nearly asked the now helmet-less man just how old he was. The trooper rubbed his sweat-covered face, his brown hair was plastered to his skull. He looked too thin and very unhappy. After a time, the young man noticed Piett staring at him and an instant expression of shock spread over his face. He looked around frantically.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I’ll get it back.”
For a moment Piett was baffled. “The helmet? – Forget it.”
Now the trooper stared at Piett with wide eyes, obviously hardly believing his ears.
“Yes, sir,” he said then.
When they reached a small clearing in the forest, Piett
announced, “I think we can stop here.”
Most of the men just dropped to the ground. One, the pilot, came to Piett and handed him his folding knife.
“Now.” Piett mustered the small group. “Unfortunately I only have five emergency rations left, so you will have to share.” He handed the containers out, making sure that the emaciated stromtrooper got one and Captain Needa as well, for old time’s sake. “Who, by the way, had the brains to have his com-link open?”
“That’s how you found us?” the moaning man said.
“Me.” It was the navy officer with the slight accent. “Lieutenant Commander Rezikiel.”
“Can I have your com-link?”
Rezikiel handed over his link.
“Who are you?” the moaning man asked now.
The other army officer with whom he was sharing one emergency ration walloped him on the head. “He’s the Admiral, stupid.”
Piett decided to ignore this particular conversation and started to hail pilot Hookainen.
“Admiral Piett, you idiot. – Just how many Admirals do you think were traipsing about in the battle?”
“How should I know? I’m army.”
“I’m army, too, and I know.”
“I knew,” that was the stormtrooper, which was somewhat surprising.
Hookainen was not answering and Piett turned his attention to the trooper. “And you?”
“Trooper Ben Lots, Sir.”
“Perhaps we should get properly introduced.” Needa rose to his feet, emergency ration in his hand. “I don’t know all of these either.”
“Major Remier, at your service.” The army officer said.
“Commander Dan Stenson.” The moaning man introduced himself.
“Pilot Clance Bridgewater.”
“Lieutenant Ralph Corbet.”
“As you were all serving on my ship, I hope you all know me?” Needa glowered at the men, who all nodded in reply.
Piett looked at the small group. “What happened?”
“We lost the bloody battle, that’s what happened.” Needa poked his food listlessly. “The blasted Death Star got … blasted into smithereens. As far as we know, the Emperor and Vader are both dead – but that’s just speculation. With them, you never know. The Rebels must have destroyed the shield generator down here. We only noticed when the Death Star turned into a big fire-works display. We kind of had our hands full at the time. The damned shield generators! – The Rebels managed to blow our main rear deflector shields and were having a field day after that.” Shaking his head, Needa shoved a spoonful of food in his mouth.
“So you abandoned ship.”
“Me?” Needa asked almost choking on his food, “Abandoning ship? Piett, you must be joking. You know full well that ships under no circumstances whatsoever are to fall into the enemy’s hands.” Needa shook his spoon at Piett. “When it became clear that all was lost, I ordered the crew to leave and prepared to pull the plug, the self-destruct that is.”
“The flipping thing did not work.”
“Exactly.” One of the navy officers, Corbet, assented. “There we were, just the two of us, who were necessary to start the thing, and Sub-Lieutenant Valan here, all worked up and prepared to die when the Avenger explodes, and then the self-destruct mechanism just didn’t work.”
“THIS FACILITY IS OUT OF ORDER,” Needa imitated the tinny voice of the computer. “Not that the self-destruct is something you immediately notice when it’s down – after all it’s not used on a regular basis.”
“So, after looking like complete shit-heads, we made a run for it. Rounding up as many of the stragglers as we could on our way to the hangar, like our friend Bridgewater, who had just fallen out of his bed, and took the next ferry out.” Corbet grinned. “The Avenger did not fall into enemy’s hands after all, she blew after we left as the Rebels were pounding away at her even though we had stopped firing and there were kind of lots of escape pods dropping out of her. They shot those as well.” A grim expression drove the grin from Corbet’s face. “The next person who dares to tell me that the Rebels don’t shot at escape pods will find my boot in his balls. They shot at us as well and we, or rather our friend Bridgewater and the Captain gave them back as good as we got. In the end the shuttle was too damaged to go into hyperspace and we had to set down on this charming planet.”
“Moon.” Major Remier corrected.
“Moon, whatever. As it turned out the shuttle was unable to land so we crashed as softly as we could.”
A very grim silence settled on the group. They all had stopped eating and most scowled at the ground.
“Then those horrible things came and took advantage of the fact that we were all more or less out and …” Corbet shoved the emergency ration into Sub-Lieutenant Valan’s hand, with whom he had been sharing it.
“But you’ve all made it, now.” Piett heard himself say.
“No, we haven’t.” Corbet got to his feet, his face distorted by fury. For a moment Piett was half-expecting Corbet to hit him. “We haven’t all made it.”
“He doesn’t know that. Calm down, for crying out loud.” Needa sighed and continued, turning to Piett. “We were sixteen altogether, four did not survive the crash, and four did not survive the … furry fuzzballs.”
“Ewoks. They’re called Ewoks.” Remier said.
“Do you think I give a fuck what they’re called?” Needa snapped.
“What happened?” Piett could not help asking.
For a few moments icy silence settled over the group. It was Corbet who finally answered. “Two, pilots like our friend Bridgewater, who were injured these bloody critters killed right on the spot. The other two, Lieutenant Furrows and a trooper.…”
“Sid Lopey,” Ben Lots threw in.
“Trooper Lopey were killed later.” Corbet swallowed. “They ate them.”
“Hell.” Piett stared at Corbet. “They ate them?”
The officer glared at him. “Yes, they did. And they did not bother to kill them before they cooked them.”
Piett just stopped himself from starting to sound like the moaning man. That must have been what was happening when he and Pilot Hookainen were listening in on the conversation between the men.
“That is one of their customs we didn’t know about.” Remier said. Noticing Piett’s confused look, he continued, “I have been stationed on this moon for a couple of months.”
“He even speaks their language.” Valan added.
“And a lot of good it did,” Stenson, the moaning man, remarked.
“I tried. But …” Remier shook his head in desperation. “They apparently think that it’s just the right thing to do. Eat your enemies.”
An uncomfortable silence spread over the group. Piett understood very well why none of the men were interested in their food anymore. Lieutenant Furrows, he remembered the name.
“Didn’t Furrows serve on the Executor for some time?”
Needa nodded. “Yeah. Ensign Furrows then. Nice kid.”
Piett remembered him all too well now. He had been a ‘nice kid’, fresh from the academy, full of ambition and to some extent good intentions. It hadn’t taken very long for that to wear off, the stress of working under the Dark Lord of the Sith had got to him. Furrows had been very, very happy to be transferred to the Avenger after a year. Now he was dead, and not shot down in a battle against the Rebels or strangled for making a mistake, but eaten, cooked alive by these horrible, fuzzy things: Ewoks.
“I always thought that it wouldn’t make any difference how you die.” Pilot Bridgewater said slowly. “But now… . Hell, we all don’t expect to become old in our jobs but having your brains smacked out with a club…” He shuddered.
The com-link Piett was still holding in his hand started to beep.
“Admiral.” Hookainen’s voice sounded relieved.
“I have collected the men and we’re on our way back. Any news?”
“The troopers from the Annihilator have arrived. They have picked up a group of men from the Ruthless, who made it in an escape pod. I have also contacted a TIE-fighter pilot who is just now on his way.”
“I’m happy to hear that. So how many are we now?”
“Ahm, I have to ask.” There was a brief silence, then Hookainen continued, “there are thirty-two troopers, eight men from the Ruthless, me and there will be pilot Taakanen, also from the Devastator.”
Forty-two men there and eight with him, so they already had fifty-one survivors together.
“Good. We will be back in about two hours. Piett out.”
The men stared at him, doubt on most of their faces, a vague expression of hope on some.
“So you’re gathering your men.” Needa’s expression was grim.
“And what will you do then?”
“I don’t know.” Piett hated to admit this in front of the men. “I had to do something. And if we have a chance to get of this moon, we sure have a greater chance when we work together.”
“What do you think we could do, defeat the Rebels here on the ground?”
“We could try.”
“With three blasters?”
“The troopers should have some, as should the escapees from the Ruthless. Dammit, Angus, what do you want to do? Sit down and wait till the Rebels pick us up? For as sure as hell, the remnants of the navy won’t come looking for us.”
Needa stared at him, his lips pressed to a thin line, then he dropped down on the ground again. “You’re right.” he finally conceded. “It’s just… shit.” After poking in his food for some time he started to eat again.
Of course it was ‘shit’, as Needa so nicely put it. Their entire situation was really hopeless. But the only options they had at the moment were trying to somehow get out of this alive, or resign and best commit suicide at once. Piett glared at Captain Needa. Sometimes the man just made Piett wanting to shake him, or kick him. Though he was glad he was here now.
Piett looked up to find Lieutenant Commander Rezikiel standing next to him, holding out the remains of his emergency ration. “No thanks, I have eaten.”
Rezikiel pulled his hand back. “Sir.” He looked nervously around. “I just … just wanted to thank you for coming for us.”
To his intense embarrassment, Piett felt his face redden. “I couldn’t just leave you there, could I?”
“Could you? Of course, you could.” Needa looked up again. “After all there was no Darth Vader to boot you in the right direction. Rather, isn’t it Imperial policy not to rescue prisoners as it is their fault anyway when they’re in trouble? You might get in trouble for bothering about us.”
“First of all, you know that that’s not true. If it does not endanger other troops, prisoners are to be liberated. And as to getting in trouble, hell, I abandoned ship, so if Vader is still out there…”
“Anyway, we appreciate your efforts, Piett. And climbing trees is not in the job-description for admirals, so we are really lucky that you are the one Imperial officer who had the skills to do the job.”
Piett stared down on his mud-covered boots. The mention of his superior officer had brought his mind back to the battle. He had abandoned his ship, and he did not yet know what had happened.
“How did you get here?” Needa asked.
“Escape pod. The damned shield generators, as well. We lost our bridge deflector shield and some Rebel fighter crashed right smack into the bridge. I somehow managed to crawl into the next escape pod.” Just ask, dammit. “What happened? To the ship I mean.”
“You don’t know?” The pause Needa made was enough to tell Piett what had happened. “I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. The Executor crashed into the Death Star.”
“Shit.” Something in his mind said. ‘He must be joking. The Executor cannot be destroyed’ but of course it was true. His ship gone. Damn those Rebels, they didn’t have the right to do this. And he just hadn’t even contemplated the possibility that his ship would actually be destroyed. The Executor had always been, in his imagination at least, his ship. Of course, in fact it had been Darth Vader’s ship, but … . He had liked this ship, the gigantic arrow-head even more elegant than the other Star Destroyers. He had been the first Captain when the Executor was taken into service shortly after the loss of the first Death Star. Hell, he had been on the ship when it was still in the starship yards off Fondor. Even before he knew he was to be its Captain he had been fascinated, strolling along the empty corridors and watching the technicians fine-tune the equipment. Even the fact that Ozzel would be his superior officer had only marginally dimmed his excitement when he got the notice that he was promoted to be Captain on the fleet’s flagship. As a matter of fact he had not know about the unfortunate choice of his superior until after he had accepted his promotion and discovered that a beigh-lawn was installed on the recreational deck.
Even working under the eyes of Darth Vader seemed to be a minor risk at that time. Stupid idea that. He remembered Minna’s bland look when he had called her bursting with the news. She just hadn’t understood at all, why he was so excited about it. Being Captain of one or the other ship made not great difference to her. But somehow the Executor was just special. Damn. It was just such a waste.
“You’re not going to cry, are you?” Needa looked at him more curiously than critically.
“I am going to cry in pain when Vader gets hold of me. Hell, I thought I just had abandoned my post and now I find out I have lost the flagship of the fleet. He will not be pleased at all. His egg-thing was on board as well.”
“His egg-thing?” Ben Lots stared at Piett utterly confused.
“His meditation chamber.” Needa explained, but he kept his eyes fixed on Piett. “So you think that Vader is still alive.”
“I … I don’t know. I just can’t imagine him being stupid enough to stay on the Death Star after the shield had come down. And he survived the first Death Star.”
“We received this strange message from the Death Star that Vader was dead, but somehow…” Shaking his head Needa stirred in his food. “It was a very bizarre message. – Oh,” he stopped stirring. “Damn, all your little trees were on the ship, weren’t they?”
“Yes, they were.” Piett sighed. So far he had not even thought about his miniature trees. Now, they and all his other personal belongings were now space dust.
“Wow, you lost me here.” Corbet interrupted his thoughts. “I’ve heard about the meditation chamber, the egg-thing, though I have never actually seen it, but what are those ‘little trees’?”
“The admiral is … or was collecting little trees. About this high.” Needa indicated about a foot nearly spilling his emergency ration over his uniform. “He had quite a few of them. Lots of them, actually. – When was the last time I was in your quarters?”
“Last year, after the annual banquet …”
“Oh yes, the anniversary of our Imperial Highness’s elevation to Emperor. Hell, at least we don’t have to sit through any of those again.”
“If we’re lucky.”
“Come on, either his Imperial Craziness is dead and we don’t have to go, or he is still alive and we’re dead. Either way, no Imperial Banquets anymore.”
“I’ve heard these occasions were rather … ahm, taxing for the guests.” Major Remier mustered the two of them. “I have always wondered why all officers who had to go were so freaked out about it.”
“Can’t you imagine? Not only was the entire Imperial elite there but the Emperor and Vader. And you were supposed to show a cheerful face.” Needa bared his teeth in something that was definitely not a smile.
“Vader attended the banquet?” Pilot Bridgewater was obviously fascinated by the insights into the higher echelons of the Empire he had never even glimpsed before. “Did he…?”
“No, he did not eat.” Piett answered his half-question. “He just loitered around, usually somewhere behind the Emperor, making everybody nervous.”
“And I don’t know what was worse, the Emperor eating or Vader not eating.” Needa commented, then he looked back to Piett. “I knocked one of your trees over, didn’t I?”
“As an explanation for those of you who never have been to one of these happy gatherings, the only way you could possibly survive them was to get completely plastered afterwards. Which we, the Admiral and I, did in his quarters on the Executor, may she rest in peace.”
“And the Avenger.” Remier said.
“And the Retaliator.” Bridgewater continued.
“The Retaliator as well? – That was Captain Garnet’s ship, right?” Piett had met Garnet at one of the Imperial Banquets a few years ago.
General nodding was the answer to his question.
“The Ruthless is gone too.” Sub-Lieutenant Valan remarked. “It looked as if they did not have any problems with the self-destruct.”
For a few moments there was silence. Piett remembered the Captain of the Ruthless well, Ezih Lotremer from Calaïsta. They had been in the Naval Academy together, finished the same year. Somehow Piett had always expected that Lotremer would on some day just quit, leave the entire mess behind. He had always seemed so disinterested in the entire business, he was – as he repeatedly said– just doing his job.
“That’s four of our ships accounted for – in a way.” Having finally finished his meal, Needa started to crunch the container together. “What happened to the rest of the fleet. There were another sixteen destroyers up there.”
“As far as I know the Devastator fled.” Piett said.
“The Ferocious and the Obliterator did the same.” Grinning viciously Needa threw the tiny clump he had turned the ration box into, in the undergrowth. “And you will be happy to know that the Annihilator disappeared from the scene of battle as well. – With all our happy memories on board. You see, Bridgewater,” he turned to the pilot who was looking somewhat perplexed. “the Admiral used to be Captain of the Annihilator a couple of years ago.”
“The Adjucator and the Accuser looked as if they were about to be captured.” Valan continued his list, then he paused. “Say, does any of you know who makes up the names of these ships? You know, Accuser is a pretty crap name for a ship, isn’t it? I sometimes thought that at least some part of the Rebellion’s propaganda is based on the names of our ships. They call their ships things like Liberator and Emancipator and make believe they own justice and are the only ones who fight for the good in this universe.”
“I always thought that Executor is just the best name a ship can have.” Piett muttered, more than a bit irritated by the insinuation that their ship’s names had something to do with their defeat. And the Executor was just the Executor he could not imagine the ship with a different name.
“Aah, come on,” Needa said, “you liked the ship, you would have liked it even if it was called ‘Garbage’.”
“Maybe,” Piett admitted. “So we have the Executor, Annihilator, Ruthless, Obliterator, Accuser, Devastator, Adjucator, Retaliator, Ferocious and Avenger accounted for, that leaves the Coruscant, Subjugator, Tenacious, Nullifier, Vanquisher, Malicious, Eradicator, Relentless, Corellia and Ravager unaccounted for. – The names do sound a bit dodgy when taken together like this.”
“They were meant to intimidate the enemy, no doubt.” Corbet frowned as he made this statement. “The problem is that most of our enemies never knew the names of our ships. I guess the only people who were intimidated were our own cadets.” He paused briefly. “‘You are assigned to the Imperial Star Destroyer Malicious,’ that sure doesn’t sound very healthy.”
“It wasn’t very healthy either. Captain Seyles was or is a man with a very short temper.” Lieutenant Commander Rezikiel said bruskly. “He thought if Lord Vader was allowed to kill his junior officers, so was he.”
“And to the Sub-Lieutenant’s question on who named the ships.” Needa said, getting to his feet and dusting his uniform off. “that was the Emperor himself. – Not that he had to make up the names recently, the new ships were given the names of the ones that were destroyed or otherwise lost, keeping the impression as if this never happened.”
“‘Otherwise lost?’” Ben Lots asked unbelievingly. “What …?”
“Got captured, or … just disappeared. You must have heard of the last Obliterator?” Seeing the bland look on the stormtrooper’s face, Needa looked around, only to be confronted with more confused men. “That was only sixteen months ago! I mean, I found out about it.”
“I guess I told you.” Piett only vaguely remembered – not surprisingly. “And Ozzel told me. That was still at the time when I had to listen to his explanations of how everything would just work out fine, if they would let him run the Empire. I think I told you during our last post-banquet meeting.”
Needa nodded. “Yes. I do remember now. Was that before or after I knocked over the little tree?”
“Before.” Definitely before. He had kicked Needa out after the tree incident. Not only because of that, of course, they had had to be on duty the next day after all.
“So,” Corbet said. “What happened to the last Obliterator?”
“It disappeared. – Just like that. One day Captain Mehan was ordered to pick up a new batch of troops from Raithall, the ship left Coruscant and never reached its destination.” There was a puzzled look on Needa’s face as he recapitulated the story. “Nobody does know what happened. Captain Mehan could have just run for it, though it is a bit difficult to disappear with a Star Destroyer, particularly since it is unlikely that all aboard would have been happy with this choice. On the other hand, that the ship was destroyed and no trace of it found, is very unlikely as well. However, both possibilities …”
“Whatever.” Piett interrupted Needa suddenly impatient with the delay. “We can speculate about this on our way to our meeting point. We don’t want to get there after dark.”
Needa frowned at him. “As you wish, Admiral.” he answered bowing stiffly.
“Come on, move it.” Corbet shouted at the few stragglers, the moaning man and Trooper Lots, who were still sitting on the ground.
Ignoring Needa’s glare Piett started to lead his little group back towards the TIE-Interceptor and pilot Hookainen.
He had lost his ship and was stranded on this rotten moon with only a handful of other Imperials. They were facing a native population that indulged in eating its prisoners of war and the only people around who might be able to take them off this heap were bloody rebels. Somehow he could not imagine emerging from this situation reasonably successful and alive.
Chapter 7: In which Admiral Piett returns to their camp and heads out on another rescue mission.
Return to Admiral Piett
Return to Front Page