Chapter 8:
In which Admiral Piett enjoys the cameraderie of a united force.

His feet hurt, but he did not want to wake up.
Piett was not quite sure, suspended in half-sleep, why he didn’t want to wake up, but he knew that the reality was unpleasant and not only because his feet were hurting. But there was no helping it.
Groaning he opened his eyes and blinked at the grey-greenish blades of grass in front of his them. The morning was grey. He rolled on his back and stared into the dull, overcast sky. Somehow he had the impression this planet knew only one kind of weather, grey and depressing.
It should be a nice morning, the sun breaking through the clouds and birds singing in the trees. Unfortunately neither happened. This is after all, he reminded himself, the Ewok moon not Pokrovsk. Around him, there was a nearly unnatural silence, the loudest sound was General Ossory’s snoring.
Piett sat up and looked around. In the early morning light the clearing looked eerily dead, the sleeping men were quiet as if they were bodies. A thin mist rose from the little stream and spread over the scene. If it weren’t for the men patrolling the edges of the clearing – and General Ossory’s snoring, it could have been a battle-field. The TIE-interceptor, centre of the tableau, looked like an ancient artefact.
Grigori Piett, you’re going mad.
Damn, his feet hurt. These boots were just not made for sleeping in them. He slowly got to his feet, quietly so as not to wake up the sleeping men around him. His cap was lying somewhat squashed on the ground, as he had obviously slept on it. He picked it up and limped towards the little stream. First he had to get out of the boots, then he would give his feet a good soak.
His way took him past the sleeping Captain Needa, who lay on his side, his hands folded and tucked under his head. Unlike Piett he had been clever enough to take his boots off before he fell asleep. They stood, covered in mud, next to Needa’s stockinged feet. Piett thought that Needa looked quite innocent, despite two days’ growth of stubbly beard. Piett probably looked quite scruffy as well. Absentmindedly his scratched his own chin, noticing that there was dried blood under his fingernails. The sleeping stormtroopers were all in various stages of undress. All had taken their helmets off, most had also removed some parts of their armour. Piett couldn’t blame them. Sleeping with his boots on was painful enough, he did not want to consider what sleeping in this armour must be like.
With a sigh he sat down on the side of the river. Putting his cap on the ground he started to yank off his boots. Just when he thought he would have to ask somebody to help him, he managed to pry the right one off. The left needed less force but he still had the impression that his foot was welded into the damn thing.
Taking off the badly smelling socks he pulled his uniform’s trousers up, as far as possible, and stuck his feet into the water. Pure bliss. He wiggled his toes and wondered whether he should try to wash his socks or just forget about it. After all they all were in a rather smelly, crumpled up state.
“Admiral,” somebody next to him said. Before he could follow his instinct to get to his feet, the navy officer set down next to him and started to struggle with his own boots.
Piett stared at his feet until the officer had removed his boots and was dangling his feet in the stream as well, then he looked at his companion, discovering to his surprise that his uniform indicated him to be a captain – a captain whose name he did not know. Involuntarily he wrinkled his brows. He had made it his personal ambition to know all the captains’ names and the ships they commanded, particularly those who were under his command, but the man sitting next to him was an officer he had apparently never met.
The officer looked at him, a lop-sided smile on his face.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t remember your name.” Piett said after a pause.
“Constantine McLaughlin, Captain of the Accuser,” the man said, then when he saw the confused look on Piett’s face, he continued, “I have only been Captain for a week.”
“What happened to Captain Valence – he was Captain of the Accuser?”
“He suffered a stroke just seven days ago. He was retired, I guess he is still in hospital.”
They sat in silence for a while. Piett wondering again what he could possibly do to get them off this abysmal planet. He had to find out what had happened while he had picked up the men from the Accuser, including Captain McLaughlin. Before they set out, Pilot Hookainen had mentioned that there were more imperials on their way. Had they already arrived, Piett wondered. Had the others discussed the situation after he had fallen asleep? If they had, why hadn’t they woken him up?
“Admiral?” McLaughlin tilted his head to one side. “I … I just wanted to thank you for getting us out of that dreadful situation, and I wanted to apologize for getting into it.” He looked edgy now, swallowing nervously, clenching and unclenching his hands. “It has been my fault, Sir. I underestimated the danger we were in. I know that this is no excuse, I should have remembered that we are in hostile territory and taken the necessary precautions, instead I have acted appallingly. I just wanted to say that I am accepting the responsibility for my mistakes.”
When McLaughlin had started his apology Piett had expected him to describe what happened, only when McLaughlin stopped and looked at Piett, not nervous anymore but scared, he realized that the Captain expected to be reprimanded, no, punished by his superior officer. McLaughlin was obviously assumed Piett would imitate the Dark Lord and kill him for having failed to keep his men out of trouble.It was a strange feeling that for a change somebody was afraid of him.
“What happened?” he asked.
McLaughlin swallowed again, then after clearing his throat, he explained hastily, “We had a rather rough descent, the escape pod was too heavy and we were very cramped. When we finally had landed and left the pod, I decided that we would have a meal first before deciding what to do. It was then that these creatures attacked us.” The Captain made a movement as if he wanted to get to his feet and address his superior officer standing as he should do, but he probably thought that it was too late for this gesture to be effective. “I should have distributed the blasters first and posted guards. Then this wouldn’t have happened!” Now he got up, standing in the river. “Sir, it was my responsibility to ensure the safety of my men, they just did what I told them.”
Piett found himself staring up at the Captain. The legs of the captain’s trousers had slipped down and started to get soaked. Apparently he expected that Piett would kill the entire lot of them. Piett realized that he must have made a hell of an impression the night before.
“Captain McLaughlin. – Thank you for appreciating my help, but there is no need to apologize for what happened. I am not in the habit of strangling junior officers and…” he sighed, “do you think I would have gone to all that trouble just to kill you?”
The Captain looked somewhat dumbfounded.
“Moreover, we are stranded on this rotten moon together and I will need all the men I can get if we want to get away.”
For a moment McLaughlin just stared at him, then he sat down heavily on the bank again. An awkward silence settled between them. McLaughlin was probably wondering whether he had made a complete fool of himself by apologizing.
Piett wracked his brain to find something to say, but all he could think of, like ‘so your ship was boarded’ or ‘how did the Ewoks manage to keep you prisoners’ would make the poor man even more uncomfortable. At least nobody else – as far as he could determine – had heard their conversation. Apart from the patrol around their little encampment, everybody seemed to be fast asleep. He observed two of the men - a stormtrooper in gleaming white and an army officer in black, Piett thought he recognized Major Remier – meet at the corner of the camp and talk for a few moments before turning around and resuming their patrol. Once more he marveled how strange this situation was. It was likely that it never happened in the Imperial armed forces, or in any forces since the end of the Clone Wars.
Some movement at the TIE interceptor let Piett’s gaze wander there. Pilot Hookainen was just emerging from the hatch and another similarly clad figure climbed into the ship. Seeing Hookainen made Piett suddenly remember a very good reason why rescuing Captain McLaughlin had been a very good idea. Now McLaughlin and Needa both outranked Commander Iddlem, and General Ossory was superior officer to the moaning man, Dan Stenson. Not that he could really judge whether Stenson was a bad officer but somehow he did not quite trust him to hold up in an emergency.
Hookainen was walking briskly towards them and after he had reached them, saluted briefly. “Mind if I join you?” he said.
“Not at all.”
Hookainen grinned at Piett and sat down on the ground and started to struggle with his boots. Piett saw the puzzled look on McLaughlin’s face. Well, it was not every day in the Imperial navy that a captain found himself sitting down with a TIE interceptor pilot. Hookainen plunged his feet into the stream.
“Ah, that’s good.” Hookainen trailed his feet through the water.
“Now,” Piett asked looking first at Hookainen on his left and then at McLaughlin on his right. “can you brief me in on our situation? Did the men you mentioned before I set out all arrive here? Do we know anything about what the Rebels are doing?”
“The men all arrived here, yes. We are now …” Hookainen answered. He paused for a moment calculating, “seventy-five. But I guess that’s about it. I have spent half of the night trying to contact more survivors but I fear if there are others they are either too far away or they have been taken by the Rebels. And the Rebels are clearing out.”
“What?” Piett stared at Hookainen. Of course he shouldn’t be surprised. The Rebellion’s forces were still far outnumbered by what was left of the Imperial fleet and could not spare the ships to secure this out of the way sector of the galaxy. After all this was neither a strategically important place nor was it likely that there were resources or goods that made this system worth holding. He should be happy to have the problem of rebels out of the way.
The only problem was that the Rebels were the only people on this damned planet with ships. With them gone, he and his men would probably be stuck here forever. Perhaps surrendering would not be the stupidest of all ideas after all.
“Apparently, that’s what Yal Losari said. They destroyed the bunker and landing platform and the shield generator and defeated the troops here on the moon with the help of these natives. The patrol which has found us picked up two survivors of that battle. The Rebels are shipping the prisoners off planet. Most of the Rebel fleet is gone as well.”
“Damn. – How are we ever going to get off this heap?” Piett felt increasingly desperate. The prospect of spending the rest of his life on this abysmal world, with those horrible creatures, wearing his uniform till it fell to bits and ending up with a beard down to his knees was making him hope that Darth Vader would return and just put him out of his misery. “Are there any ships still working?”
Hookainen shook his head sadly. “Apart from my interceptor and Losari’s fighter, no.”
“And we’re far too out of the way that any of them could reach the next base and get help.” Another voice, Needa’s, continued, “we had a long talk about this last night after you fell asleep. All kinds of scenarios were discussed but there’s no way around this: we are most certainly stuck here.” Needa put his boots, that he had taken off while speaking, neatly beside him, and his feet into the water. “We have to talk to Major Remier. He is the only officer who has been stationed on the moon. Last night he was asleep and now he is on patrol.”
“Then we’d better get him.”
Hookainen started to get to his feet but was interrupted by another man, trooper Ben Lots, who had just ambled over to them. “I’ll get him. I am supposed to relive him anyway.”
The stormtrooper walked away exchanging a few greetings with other troopers who now slowly started to wake up.
“Isn’t this a cosy picture?” Needa made a sweeping gesture at the four of them sitting next to the little stream. “We really ought to take a holo of this. Put it on one of the ad-pamphlets for the navy or something. ‘Join the navy and enjoy the camaraderie of a united force.’”
“Yeah, right,” one of the troopers standing within ear-shot muttered. He shot a vicious glance at Needa but apparently decided that he would join the camaraderie of communal foot-bathing anyway. He did so, however, sitting next to Pilot Hookainen.
“Well it does build up the team spirit, doesn’t it?” Needa grinned. “You know, I’ve often been told that had the Jedi bathed their feet more often with the regular forces perhaps the order might have never been dissolved.”
Piett stared at Needa, who looked positively chirpy this morning. The fact that they were probably stuck on this stupid moon did not seem to bother him at all.
“You wanted to talk with me, Admiral.” Major Remier walked up to them, standing briefly to attention.
For a moment Piett contemplated whether it was a problem if he kept sitting here, with his feet in a stream, while discussing matters of such importance. Apart from the fact that Needa probably had a point, and it was building an unusual team spirit between the different parts of the armed forces, it was also too late to worry about his dignity as a commanding officer now.
“Major, you are apparently the only officer here who has been stationed on this moon before.” Piett made a pause in which Remier nodded curtly. “As you know our main problem is how we can get away. Perhaps you have already discussed this with the others but as I have been away or asleep last night, could you tell me what our resources here are and what we can do?”
Remier scratched his head, looking at his feet, for a moment. “Well, the bunker guarding the shield generator has been destroyed and that’s were our equipment and so on were, so this is pretty useless.” He stopped again this time examining the sky above which was still covered in grey clouds. “There is the original shelter. It is possible that the Rebels have not detected it. It was abandoned after the bunker had been built but I guess there might be some useful things there. At least it is a shelter and there might be some equipment and food there. But then, the Rebels might have found it.”
The word food reminded Piett that he hadn’t eaten since he left his escape pod the morning before and his stomach cramped together quite violently. But, he decided, food had to wait till later.
“Can you find the shelter?”
Remier nodded. “Yes, Sir. And with the two TIEs we can check it out before we go there. Now the Rebels are more or less gone, we don’t have to worry about them being shot down.”
“Unfortunately the Rebels are also our only chance to get away from here,” commented the trooper who also dangled his feet into the little stream.
“Do you want to surrender?” McLaughlin asked. He frowned at the trooper but the question sounded more interested than reprimanding.
“Who hasn’t thought of it?” The trooper answered, he tried to look unperturbed by the united gazes of the three officers who now looked at him but it was obvious that he became increasingly nervous. “It might be different for you, but the Rebels always send the ordinary men they capture home – if they don’t join them.”
“There must be a different way out of here.” Piett said firmly. If only he could think of one. Some way to attract the attention of the remnants of the navy, or somebody who was willing to ferry them off. “Is there any broadcasting equipment at the shelter?”
Major Remier shrugged. “There might be some, but I honestly don’t know. When I was here, the original shelter was sill pretty well equipped.But we just had finished work on the shield generator. It depends on what my successor, Commander Pellar, decided to do with the building.”
“It’s a start.” Piett looked at the small group around him, a few other troopers and a couple of officers had joined them, listening to what was said. The troopers all had their helmets in their hands, revealing a surprising variety of faces and skin-colours. “We will proceed to the Imperial shelter and try to find means of transport off this moon. There must be a way we can contact somebody up there, not necessarily the navy. Around this moon, is now a major junk-yard and somebody will have a look at it, either those who want to salvage whatever equipment is still usable, or the news.”
There had to be somebody they could contact. Some of the men clustered around them nodded approvingly. Piett knew it was unusual for a senior officer to explain his decisions but then they were rarely in a situation where they had to explain themselves. Usually the aim, to crush the Rebellion and secure the Empire, only gave one way to react to a situation.
Pilot Hookainen started to get to his feet and pull his boots back on. They would better get going. The sooner they started the sooner they would reach the shelter, where there was hopefully some equipment and food. At the thought of food Piett’s stomach cramped together again, sending a painful stab through him. The startled look on McLaughlin’s face told Piett that he must have winced noticably.
“Is there any of the food left you mentioned last night?” Piett asked addressing the assembled men.
A few men nodded though most of them looked not particularly keen. Whatever the food was it did not seem to be exactly delicious.
“Wake the men, and after breakfast we set off for the shelter,” Piett said.
A few of the men left the group but most kept standing where they were. Needa was already putting on his boots again.
“Right, you did miss dinner last night.” he said. “Food will be a problem, if we’re stuck here for longer. As will those furry natives. They are, at the moment, less well armed than we are but that only lasts till our energy cells run out. And they are a lot more than we are. Mind you, we should know that it doesn’t really matter if your troops are badly equipped and under-trained, as long as you have enough men and are willing to accept the losses you will win. – Oops.” He looked up and noticed the assembled stormtroopers glowering at him, a few had dropped their hands on their blasters. “Ahm, well, I didn’t say I think this is a sensible arrangement, I was just stating the facts,” Needa explained hastily.
“Well, you are not one of these badly equipped and undertrained men, so what is it to you?” one of the troopers said.
“And you don’t have the Dark Lord of the Sith dropping in and strangling you if you make a little mistake.” Needa replied sharply getting to his feet.
Piett stood up as well. “Now, we cannot afford to bicker. And we cannot afford to lose any of our men. We have to work together if we want to get away from here.”
After a few seconds both Needa and the trooper nodded.
“Good.” Piett picked up his cap, his socks and his boots and walked towards the centre of the camp carrying them. He wanted to postpone the moment when he had to get back into the wet, uncomfortable boots as long as possible.
The camp was now coming to life again, some officers and troopers were walking around, rousing the sleepers. A few others, among them Lieutenant Commander Sokorovsk and Lieutenant Corbet were busy around a fire. General Ossory came along rubbing his unshaved chin. He wore a grim look on his face but after a startled look at Piett he burst into laughter.
“Well,” he said when he had composed himself enough to talk, “I know there is the precedence of commanding officers wearing carpet slippers but barefoot admirals?”
Piett found himself smiling wryly at the General. “Given the state we are in it hardly seems to matter. But I can tell you I definitely wouldn’t dare this when Vader was around.”
The assembled officers all grinned knowingly, while the stormtroopers and pilots looked baffled. The story of Grand Moff Tarkin and his carpet slippers obviously had not filtered down to the ranks of the Imperial forces.
“Only Tarkin would dare that and get away with it.” Needa commented. He obviously intended to explain the entire story to the troopers and pilots but a low rumble interrupted him before he could begin.
Piett automatically stared at the grey sky, expecting a ship to appear, but the sound came not from above – it came from the ground which was also vibrating. He could feel the constant tremor through his bare feet. Then the ground seemed to lurch upwards violently. Piett and most of the others were thrown to the ground. A second quake shook the ground then everything became silent, unnaturally silent.
Slowly Piett stood up, looking around. Nobody seemed to have been hurt, even the fire burned unperturbed and steadily. Sokorovsk and Corbet were busy retrieving something out of the flames.
Great, Piett thought, that was probably his breakfast which had fallen into the flames.
“What was that?”
“An earthquake,” Needa brushed himself off. “I forgot, you not only slept through dinner you also managed to miss last night’s earthquake.”
“You’re joking.” Piett said. He couldn’t possibly have slept through an earthquake.
“You did, honest.” Needa tried to sound amused but a chill tone crept into his voice.
Major Remier looked even more alarmed. “We never had any earthquakes when I was stationed on the moon. We had it checked out before the base was built and it was extra-ordinarily stable. That’s why this moon was picked in the first place.” He shook his head. “One earthquake can happen, even on the stablest of all moons, but two in such quick succession is a really bad sign.”
Automatically all their gazes lifted to the grey skies.
“The Death Star,” somebody muttered.
“Exactly.” Remier said. “Having that thing explode in close orbit must create massive tensions inside the moon. And all the other shit that’s flying around up there doesn’t help either. I mean, the weather is all wrong as well.”
“Debris.” Piett stared at the sky. The weather was wrong, unnatural. There must have been chunks of the destroyed ships and the Death Star that were large enough to impact on the moon, while the smaller ones burnt out passing through the atmosphere, heating it up.
“Great, just great.” Needa threw his arms into the air in despair. “We not only have lost a major battle against the Rebels, we are not only stranded on a filthy backwater planet with no food or equipment or broadcasting system to call for help, not only is this horrible place infested with awful, fuzzy natives with particularly vile eating habits and the only space-faring people are bloody Rebels, not only that but the planet we are stuck on is falling apart.”
“All the more reason to get help quick.” Piett stared at Needa, wondering whether he was really as desperate as he made a show of, after all he usually exaggerated whatever emotional state he was in.
“We could surrender to the Rebels.” It was the same trooper who had talked about this possibility earlier who made this proposition.
“You could.” Piett levelled his gaze at the man. “And I wont stop you or anybody else from trying to do so. However, we will keep your weapons and no matter what happens you wont get any help from us. I will do my damnest to get us off this gods forsaken moon but if you want to desert you’re on your own.”
The trooper shuffled nervously and finally shook his head. Nobody else dared to propose surrender.
“Good, now, we’re going to have a short breakfast and start for the Imperial shelter. Pilot Hookainen you and the other TIE fighter will reconnoitre the shelter. – Didn’t we have a third TIE?”
“Pilot Taakanen’s fighter was badly damaged on his way here, unfortunately it’s beyond use.”
“Strike camp.” Piett ordered. He sat down on the ground, forcing his feet once more into his wet boots and put his cap back on.
“Don’t forget your weekie.” Needa said, handing Piett his backpack.
Well, at least Needa was back to his old sarcastic self.

Chapter 9: In which Mon Mothma is bored and wishes she could take a few days off.

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