Science Fiction, star wars

STAR WARS: BEFORE THE FALL, Pt. 1 — “An Older Code”

[The first in a series of (ahem) fan fictions, designed to fill in some interesting cracks in the original Star Wars continuity with pure conjecture based on the actions of minor characters I love. Today’s subject: Admiral Firmus Piett]

With a massive handful of chak, several stalks of which she’s resolved to prepare for breakfast, Nieve Piett tiptoes towards the stove during the pre-dawn hours so as not to wake her children. She’s unsure how this works; collectively, the three-foot stalks are four times the size of her biggest pot. Supposedly, chak boils down and its stalks soften to a creamy texture but she couldn’t place much faith in that level of transmutation this morning.

Most of the indigenous population of the Taere system wakes up two hours earlier to start preparing bundles of chak for much bigger families. Skeptical that it could take so long to cook for three kids, as well as fundamentally unwilling to lose that much sleep over breakfast, Nieve starts boiling water a mere hour before the children awaken. Exhausted from picking the chak (it HAS to be fresh or it tastes distressingly close to rancid Bantha meat) she peers at the water every couple of minutes, her stomach audibly grumbling. If this doesn’t work, she thinks, she’ll forsake sleep and wake up early. It’s important to adopt the culture of the place where you live, she thinks. Even if the Empire successfully stomps it out, perhaps the families of the Imperial Army will sustain it, at least in part. There is certainly nothing better to do as she and her children wait on this planet that is not their home, while Firmus negotiates the unfortunate privilege of standing at the helm of a galactic war.

*

She turns up the heat and laughs inwardly, wondering if this water might boil faster if she had the Force. It is then that she misses Firmus, a fierce pinching feeling that seems to rise along the wall of her stomach. Perhaps it’s the hunger, she thinks, but when she stands she sees her reflection against the still-dark window pane and notices the moisture of tears on her cheek, tears she hadn’t realized she wept. Soon, Firmus had said, soon a significant gesture would be made that will weaken the Rebellion. If not for good, then for long enough so that he could return and spend an entire year, likely longer, with his family.

Still gazing at her reflection, she forces herself to smile, then she does smile of her own accord when she recalls the first time she met him. So clever, so much promise. Once again, she distinctly remembers that conversation they had the second night they’d spent together, one Firmus persistently denies having, the one in which he told her he’d distinctly felt the Force within himself and what if he became a Jedi?

A loud triplet of knocks interrupts her thought, as though Firmus had sent a visitor in his stead before she got carried away with that idea. The water is still cool.

It’s Brenn Ozzel. If there’s anyone she doesn’t have the patience for, and with an empty stomach and the bleakest mood she’s been in since Firmus left, it’s Brenn Ozzel. Being kind to Brenn is a sort of charity. The moment she opens the door, Nieve notices the freshly made dish of chak Brenn holds and suddenly, she feels a bit more charitable.

“Nieve, how are you today?”

“I’m fine. It’s early.”

“Yes. Not early enough of course but certainly hours before the little ones are due to rise. How are they, by the way? Kendal and I love children, you know.”

It always makes her nauseous to hear that name and in her current state, she chokes back vomit.

“Hmm. Yes, they’re fine, Brenn. Did you need something, or…?” Nieve is so anxious for her to offer some of the steaming, fragrant plate of food, she fears it may not in fact happen.

“Of course not. It is you, who needs something, my dear.” Nieve’s eyes widen. She doesn’t care about this whole obnoxious exchange because Brenn is now handing her the hot plate of chak. “I prepared it just this morning. I make a family’s portion so of course I’ve made far too much.”

Nieve takes the bowl and breathes in a deep waft of the warm steam rising from the bowl. The complex spiced aroma and golden sweet glaze is universes away from the batch of hardy weeds on her table.

“It turned out perfect, as usual. And I’d remembered something you said about attempting to make your own this morning and I thought, well, that’s not going to go too well, I imagine.” Brenn smiles. Nieve’s desire to punch Brenn’s face bloody threatens to build to the surface–it always somehow feels stronger than the last time, as though each offense builds on the one prior–but subsides in pity, as always.

“My goodness it feels like they’ve been gone forever, hasn’t it? I do miss Kendal something fierce.”

Nieve clears her throat. She’s not sure what to say; she’s never sure what to say when they talk about Kendal. She only knows because Firmus knows and they’d agreed they ought to let the Empire inform her, though they hadn’t and may never bother at this point. It is perhaps time for Nieve to take it upon herself and tell Brenn. It’s been long since time, actually but it takes an overwhelming effort to crush this small woman’s soul, ultimately more than Nieve has within her. Tears drop down her cheeks when she so much as considers the idea. So she just nods and listens.

“Did you hear they’re due back as early as tomorrow?”

Nieve face turns white and her eyes go wide. The lid of her largest steel pot clangs as the water finally reaches boiling.

“I– I hadn’t heard anything certain one way or the other.” Nieve is being diplomatic. She’d spoken with Firmus via teleview earlier this week and he was vague about exact times. She pressed him for it but he said nothing was certain and he didn’t want to get her hopes up. Point taken, Firmus, she thinks. Hopes are now officially and impossibly, up.

“Well, that’s what several Imperial families had heard. Obviously I haven’t spoken to Kendal so I make do with murmurings!” That name again. Nieve feels a pang of sourness. Just as she’s about to ask a half dozen questions she knows she shouldn’t, Brenn clicks her tongue and interjects her exit. “How exciting, no? Enjoy the chak. I’ll stop by later for the bowl.” Her complete disinterest in Nieve’s input was never more welcome. Brenn turns and walks away, her clean gray wool suit swaying at her ankles.

A sliver of sun sets the horizon ablaze with deep reds and oranges and Nieve Piett decides that tomorrow she will tell Brenn Ozzel that her husband Kendal is dead.

*

Admiral Firmus Piett is losing the war on behalf of the Empire yet keeping quite calm about the fact. He leans in quietly to express his concerns to the first helmsman aboard The Executor. “Officer Krevot, please listen to me closely. Despite what Lord Vader believes, I am under the impression that we must begin an evasive maneuver.”

“But, sir–”

“Please let me finish. That is, however, not the stated order of The Empire, therefore we must do everything in our power to, shall we say, make progress in that direction as subtly as possible.”

“Admiral Piett, with all due respect, The Executor is incapable of subtlety.”

Piett’s eyes narrow and he does his level best to intimidate Krevot, despite his realization that the young helmsman is indeed, right. “Surely the crown jewel of the Imperial Navy can steel itself against destruction.”

That word ‘destruction’ visibly chills Krevot. Good god, Piett thinks, do they not see how poorly this is going? Do they believe Vader infallible and capable of some advantage even at this juncture? It’s an unfortunate series of circumstances that led Piett to the Admiral’s chair, the ultimate irony being that the highest ranking officer in the Empire has little faith in the Empire’s resolve. He doubts not their power but their ability to respond creatively to subversions of their power. Yes, Admiral Piett wants to turn and run because he feels the Empire is destined to lose, and entertaining that thought–amidst battle on the deck of The Executor, no less–fills him with a terror so massive, only the image of his wife feeding their children consoles him. He swears he can see what she’s doing at any given moment (though he’s never admitted that to her) and right now she’s doing that very thing as the sun is rising in a place that is not their home and he’s filled with a temporarily palliating peace. If he dies, so be it. May the Force be with her.

“Begin evasive maneuvers, Officer Krevot.”

Krevot’s eyes wander the immediate vicinity for validation that he does not find. No one so much as notices Piett’s quiet declaration of mutiny. Krevot, his mind made up the moment the words escaped Piett’s lips, realizes that the Admiral is, in fact, far off script.

“Admiral, I’m afraid I cannot do that.”

“Say again?”

“I said I cannot steer The Executor away from its present course.”

“Cannot or will not?”

Krevot clears his throat, surer in defiance than an allegiance. “Both, sir.”

Piett attempts to regain some composure and curb the terribly emotional flares he’s let off. “It’s become clear to me that this ambush was in fact poorly planned and if we act quickly we might save The Executor. It is an executive decision.”

“Without the explicit order of Lord Vader or The Emperor, I will not–”

Piett grows deeply frustrated. “Am I not your commanding officer, Krevot?”

“Yes sir.”

“And am I not better apprised of the realities of this conflict, given my vantage point?”

“Perhaps, sir, but I–”

“Then is this not insubordination?”

Krevot’s face pinches. He’s genuinely offended though refusing to lose his temper. “You’ve suggested mutiny, Admiral.”

“This will save our lives!”

Piett raps his fist on the helm, having officially captured the attention of everyone in earshot including Captain Gherant, his far more dedicated subordinate.

“Admiral, is there a problem?”

Piett and Krevot eye each other, each wondering who really possesses the upper hand in this unique situation where one is in the right and one is in charge. Krevot is steeling himself to fall on his sword when Piett beats him to the punch.

“No problem at all, Captain.” Piett straightens his posture. “There was a question of tactics, we had a difference of opinion, and I let myself get carried away.” Krevot’s eyes widen and his lips shut. “I think I will defer to the helmsman in this case. Carry on.”

Krevot never entered the next set of coordinates. From the moment Piett began his response, the helmsman hadn’t noted a word of it, fixated as he was on a small rebel craft spinning wildly out of control off starboard, on a course to fly over their heads in a matter of sixty seconds. And yet the craft, through no effort of its own, seemed to be drawing lower as it approached, perhaps due to The Executor’s onboard gravitational engine drawing it closer.

“Admiral, look.”

From this vantage point, Krevot could see the pilot struggling to fire the thrusters but it was clearly no use. The craft was now quite close and, due to the pull of the grav engine, drawing exponentially closer, now destined for the bridge windows.

Even in the maw of death, Piett is not small enough to say, I told you so. “All hands, take evasive action.”

Krevot’s already made up his mind. Captain Gherant is the first one to hit the deck.

“It’s too late!”

The rebel ship bursts through the glass in a conflagration soon to be swallowed by the vacuum of space.

*

It was in the middle of breakfast, her children happily stuffing their faces, when the comm-feed started up, accelerating steadily from that point on. The first few are variations on anonymously sent communiques she receives at least once a week.

“It’s over.”

“They’re done.”

“Rebels on their way.”

It’s not the increasing volume of messages that tips Nieve off, it’s when they start arriving with names attached.

“Death Star destroyed.”

“The reign is over. Pray they don’t find us.”

Names of Imperial families. Just the last names as though such pseudo-anonymity protects the writers. Everyone knows an Imperial family by last name so treasonous dispatches usually get sent out with anonymous home signatures. Sometimes these are the expected rebels hiding amongst indigenous tribes, sowing discontent. Sometimes however it is, in fact, Imperial families, usually an older child afflicted with sympathy for The Rebellion. This happened precisely once where the guilty party, the son of a recently slain Imperial pilot, used his real full name to lament his father’s death and curse the Empire for their “casual and dehumanizing attitude towards butchery.” He demanded to speak with the Emperor himself, confident that he could convince him to convert the Death Star into an orphanage (Lord Vader was purportedly “extremely enthusiastic” about this courageous young man and wanted to meet him personally.)

This morning is officially the second time a first name was used since that incident. The message read: “The Empire is defeated. May The Force be with those you love.”

The signature: Brenn Ozzel.

*

A torrent of bodies flies out the window on the uppermost deck of The Executor bridge before two sets of automatic blast doors close. The last three of these catch in the internal doors’ rapidly closing teeth. Two men, Captain Gherant and Officer Krevot, are stuck with their lower halves facing the outer doors, still alive despite the teeth of the doors gnashing their mid-sections, the gears moaning as they persist in their attempt to close fully. In between them lies Officer Bá, only his legs visible as his torso dangles on the other side of the maw, limp and lifeless, several pink- and blue-colored gooey lumps of his viscera draped atop blunted gunmetal gray teeth.

Captain Gherant spots at least a dozen breathing pods deployed atop the deck floor, most of which are now deflated and taut against the corpses of their occupants. Some of these are black and charred inside, the automatically deployed pods having captured flames from the crash and supplied them with the oxygen to burst, turning the pods into little death traps.

One pod, however, remains inflated, rising and falling in time with its occupant’s breath. Peering out of bleary sweat-soaked eyes from inside the maw of the blast gates, its teeth dully gnawing at the walls of his intestines, Gherant thinks he spies a familiar face through the foggy plastic of the pod.

“Firmus?”

*

Dragging her confused son and daughter behind her, Nieve Piett runs for the Ozzel settlement less than one mile away. She’s heaving breaths and tears. Her children wonder why she’s crying in the unemotional, detached way typical of children of a certain age for whom empathy is not necessary and even potentially toxic. They run in the tall weeds behind her and come to believe that what’s happening is actually some sort of game and so they start laughing to each other while their mother drags them towards Brenn’s door.

She’s doing precisely what she’d feared which was to engage Brenn Ozzel in the midst of tumultuous emotions at the moment when she’s to deliver the horrible news. Between hyperventilating breaths and the pounding pulse of blood in her head, she knocks the door and thinks that for the first time in her life, she’ll make it up as she goes along. May The Force be with her.

Brenn answers the door looking clean and collected as ever. In fact, she looks down with pity at a hunched and emotionally spent Nieve who can barely look up through the tears. Her children play several meters behind her, long since forgetting to care what the point of this walk had been and hiding behind trees and giggling as they chased one another while a now full and bright sun cast gold over the fields.

“Nieve? Oh my goodness, whatever is the matter?”

A thousand things Nieve is too horrified to say pass through her head and as if from somewhere outside herself, she simply allows herself to speak.

“He’s dead.”

Brenn’s face scrunches in confusion. “Who do you mean? Who’s dead?”

“Kendal. He’s been dead. I never could tell you, it’s just–” And with that she bursts into tears. An eerily calm Brenn is now in the strange position of consoling a completely overcome Nieve and, without further ado, pulls back from Nieve and makes a confession of her own.

“Well, of course he is. Didn’t you think I knew?”

The relief that Nieve feels at hearing this is the lightest she’ll feel for the rest of the day and for a long while afterwards. She hugs Brenn and both of them hear Brenn’s comm feed furiously double its output with reports that The Executor has been destroyed.

*

Immediately upon opening his eyes, Firmus Piett thinks he’s blind and on fire. Beneath his sweat-caked uniform, his skin feels tinged with fever. He gasps for quick breaths that cast an ever-blooming shot of condensation onto the blurry plastic before him. The one thing she taught him, that is, the thing he learned once he fell in love, is not to panic. Panic begets rash judgments and imprecision. It is the precursor to all failures, and is right now, quite literally the very oxygen upon which the growing flame on the cuff of his trousers feeds. Firmus Piett focuses on grasping the small blade that resides in his belt pouch, paying no mind to the astonishing progress of the errant flame that spreads to the waist of his trousers in seconds.

The blade extends and with one sure swipe, he slashes open the plastic shell of the oxygen pod. Immediately, Firmus rolls out across the bridge floor, through no effort of his own. The Executor’s orientation shifts drastically, having lost all thruster power. Its nose faces the Death Star and will soon crash against its hull but no one alive on The Executor inside its massively disabled bridge is privy to that information. Elsewhere, the flagship’s occupants make their way towards all available escape pods and TIE fighters. The Empire’s premier battleship has fallen and with it, a substantial chunk of its first officers and Navy. The Rebellion has officially won the battle, if not yet the war.

“Firmus! Come quickly, please!” Captain Gherant spits up blood, his eyes trained firmly on the Admiral as the latter stamps out the flames engulfing his pants leg. Gherant strains not to look to his left, where he knows he’ll spy the dead legs of Bá twitching and further over, Officer Krevot, whose pale face and maimed mid-section mirror too closely Gherant’s own. “Firmus, please drag what’s left of me to an escape pod. I beg you to hurry.”

At last able to focus his attention on something other than his enflamed leg, Admiral Piett glances up, recoiling instantly at the terrifying triptych of Gherant’s and Krevot’s top halves on either side of Bá’s bottom, the whine of the gears unremitting as it pulses to close shut. Presuming that these men still demand a leader, if not for the sake of battle then at least to bolster their flagging wills, Piett calls upon every ounce of his will not to vomit at this scene. Krevot can only utter a barely perceptible periodic moan while Gherant continues to beg for Piett’s speed.

“Please, Admiral. Only my bones prevent these teeth from sealing shut.”

These horrible details are of course useless to Piett, whose tuning out everything he sees and hears to focus on manipulating the control panel beside the blast gates. Tinkering with buttons and circuits disseminates a deeply absorbing calm throughout his system. His panic never fully subsides; instead, it shrinks back and waits like a sniper. Having no proper familiarity with these controls, he experiments with some informed guesses, attempting various protocols, even some highly classified overrides. But as Krevot’s first intelligible utterance confirms, it’s no use.

“No use… sir. Can’t… stop… these doors.”

Piett’s eyes widen. “That’s– that’s monstrous! Are you sure?”

Krevot nods, closing his mouth to mine his palate for precious moisture. “Part of… design.” Then he glances at Piett knowingly and smiles. “Stubborn… ship.”

Choking back tears for this poor boy half his age, he bites his lip and looks about the bridge floor. Noticing a loaded blaster a few paces away, he quickly fetches it and presents his last order as the commanding officer of the now-rumbling and thrusterless Executor.

“I will attempt to bisect the both of you with this blaster, thus freeing the essential top halves of your bodies.”

Gherant vomits blood. “D-dear god.”

“I know this is horrific but I’m confident your bottom halves will be easier to replicate than the top. The blast will also cauterize your wounds thus affording you the best chance of survival possible.”

Krevot still seems too dazed and unaware to realize what’s happening. Gherant is openly weeping. Recalling nothing useful from his astonishingly brief stint as a medical intern, Piett steels himself for an amateur surgerical procedure.

“Gentlemen, are you prepared?”

Piett’s aimed for Gherant’s mid-section but Gherant is anything but prepared.

“Please, Admiral! Free the boy first. It’s only proper!”

Piett nods. Gherant is a coward but he’ll grant him this reprieve for the sake of time, if nothing else. Piett trains his blaster on Krevot and applies a light, fixed pressure to the trigger, unleashing a stream that he uses as a surgical tool. As the laser cuts along his mid-section, Krevot only makes a vague grimace, his nerves likely too damaged to register the pain. As Piett reaches the halfway point, he notices the teeth of the blast doors closing tighter. Gherant notices too.

“Admiral! Please, the teeth are closing! I can feel my insides– GYAH!!!”

Piett pretends not to hear this. The lack of tension from a third body is allowing the gates to close. That, he thinks, is no reason to ignore the task at hand. He guides the laser stream below Krevot’s stomach, mercifully preserving its integrity.

“Admiral! Surely a superior officer must be– AGH– priority?!”

The laser is almost clean across. The teeth are nearly met.

“Please!!!”

I have made my choice.

Krevot’s torso falls to the ground, and the young officer lets a gasp escape from what remains of his body. The teeth meet snapping Bá and Gherant in half in a ceremonious doubled burst of blood. Using time he might have possibly spent cauterizing the captain’s garish mortal wound, Piett performs a perfunctory vital scan on Krevot confirming the operation successful. Gherant bleeds to death atop the bridge floor.

Deep inside the Death Star, unbeknownst to all but one Rebel soldier, the Emperor has also met his end at the hands of Lord Vader.

And with that, the last commanding officer still dedicated to the Imperial cause, dies.

*

Brenn Ozzel finds herself frankly confused as she consoles a tearful Nieve Piett while Rebel craft swarm the skies of Taere. All comm-feeds have been intercepted to formally grant every member of an Imperial family amnesty once the forced migration of non-native Taerens begins.

Nieve’s children are still playing outside, spreading their arms out to ape the landing X-Wing squadron.

*

Piett hoists Krevot’s salvaged half over his shoulders as they make their way towards one of the dozen unjettisoned escape pods available for an almost fully expired bridge crew. Krevot squeaks out a few words in his weak state.

“You saved me?”

Piett plants the torso firmly in the seat opposite his, adjusting Krevot’s safety straps before buckling his own. Firmus Piett clears his throat as though to begin processing his own small rebellion.

“I admire you.”

Krevot nods and looks around the pod with a heavy daze in his eyes before his remarkably casual response.

“I wouldn’t save you.”

Piett pauses before initiating the launch sequence that aims their pod towards the far side of Endor.

“Yes, I suspected that.” Piett pauses a beat before giving a speech that pains him to start but that he must give, now, if his words and his loyalty and his love are to mean anything ever again. “Before we launch, I’d like to make it clear that I intend to surrender myself to the Rebellion. Moreover, I intend to support their cause to its logical end until the day I die. If for any reason you no longer wish to join me, you may stay aboard The Executor and die. But under no circumstances will I tolerate you subverting my plan in the name of The Empire once we reach Endor. Is that clear?”

Krevot stares around the interior of the hatch with a preternatural calm. He looks down where his legs used to be and lets out a small snort. The rattle from explosions on lower decks grows louder and closer. Piett’s nostrils flare though his temper remains even. He’s still holding the blaster in his lap and his grip tightens around its handle.

“What will it be then?”

*

“I can assure you that you and your children will be safe with us. Can I get your name, please?”

“No. Please.”

Nieve Piett does her level best to retain her composure and it’s working but there’s certain things she’s not presently willing to oblige. Like this handsome young rebel pilot asking her name as she boards their transport shuttle. The pilot nods and doesn’t press.

“We understand if some Imperial families wish to remain anonymous. It does not effect your safety. Welcome aboard.”

He smiles at her, a beaming charismatic smile that she doesn’t attempt to return. All she can see when this man smiles, when any of these smug rebels so much as open their mouths, is a missile blast cutting through the flesh of the man she called her husband. Of course, she knows it wasn’t a missile blast; they say it was a crash of some sort. They say that all the occupants of The Executor were killed in the crash. They say that every Imperial commanding officer involved in The Battle of Endor is now dead. All of them? she thinks to herself, each time she spies this message now glutting every visible comm-feed on Taere. How do they know? And how has no one mentioned the Empire’s accidental third in command by name?

The other families on the shuttle, families Nieve Piett doesn’t recognize and never cared to know, show a range of emotions, from anger to sadness to relief to joy, as one might expect. But unlike Nieve they do indeed show these emotions while she stares blankly at the handsome and happy rebel pilot as he jots or withholds names from the ledger. She stares and seethes, hating this Rebellion and its success. The spite feels as though it might rot a hole in her stomach and she idly wonders if there’s enough hate in her heart to help someone more powerful than she destroy this Rebellion.

At long last, this spite releases not in anger, but in sadness. Her tears fall on the shoulder of her oldest son who gently pats the back of her head, not asking her why she cries.

*

The lone escape pod to eject from The Executor maintains its course, unperturbed, to the far side of the forest moon. It’s days before the rebels discover it and its two occupants–one dead, one alive.

According to all known records of the Empire and the Rebellion, Admiral Firmus Piett did not survive The Battle of Endor.

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