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Comrade & Confidant II: Treason

Chapter Text

Work proceeds as usual aboard the station. This room, just like most of the others, is oppressively grey. Red, blue and green lights flicker here and there, static and other garbled noise hums through the headsets. The other officers assigned to the data and communication analysis unit go about their duties as usual- and yet Captain Piett cannot shake the chill from his bones. He knows as well as the others to keep his head down and remain focused on his assigned tasks, to not show any outward sign of distraction, but his mind is far removed from the com-scan readouts in front of him.

There is a cold that seems to the leach through the walls... like the freezing, endless depths of the oceans of Manaan or the vacuum of space. Despite never having seen Lord Vader in person, on occasion he has been on the same ship or in the same building when Lord Vader has had dealings with Grand Moff Tarkin.

The news of his arrival usually travels quickly amongst the troops and officers, though always in hushed tones, and thus Piett had been aware of his presence enough to correlate it to other things. He has come to associate this uncanny chill to the dark lord's presence. Over the years it has become an almost familiar sensation, though it is still just as unsettling as it was the first time he became aware of it. Strangely none of the others around him seem to notice the chill. Or if they do they hide it better than he does.

All the other officers are surprised when they are interrupted by a commodore entering to shout brusque orders at them, demanding that they all proceed to the nearest hangar. Piett isn't surprised at all.

As they make their way as directed Piett ignores the rest of his group and is ignored in return. He checks that his collar is straight and smooths down his sleeves.

Several of the other officers are like him- middle-aged men that are too unremarkable and too long in the tooth to hold any promise to their superiors, but most of them are youngsters assigned to data analysis only until they are sufficiently humbled by the tedium. They have no idea what they're about to walk into.

His lip twitches in disgust when he notices the lieutenant in front of him erratically bringing his hands from his pockets to his mouth, rubbing them over his face. A rather obvious and unpleasant nervous tick. Unusual as well, normally such things are trained out of them at the academy-

Before he can think on it any longer their group rounds a corner and is in front of a broad hangar door. The doors open to reveal the sweeping expanse of the hangar and several other groups of officers already lined up in rows along the left wall. All together there are perhaps fifty or so men.

His group is directed into formation at the end of the line by an unfamiliar admiral. Piett ends up in the second row back. While those around him grow more and more nervous as the minutes tick by Piett is somewhat relieved by the fact his sense of foreboding was warranted. The silence grows thick as they all wait. When the hangar doors open again many of them flinch-

For a moment Piett cannot parse what he is seeing, the darkness looming in the center of the doorway appearing more like an apparition than solid form. Then the dark lord strides into the hangar and the inky blackness is discernible as cloak and limbs instead of night condensed and dripping.

Lord Vader moves towards the start of the lineup, mostly out of view. He says nothing as he makes his way down the formation. It seems as if he must be searching for something and yet he appears to be making no thorough examination of any of them. All at once Piett is cognizant of the sound of his breath- the rasping, mechanical inhale and exhale. He suddenly finds his mouth has gone dry, and swallows. The mask is lit harshly by the hangar lighting, accentuating its angles.

As the dark lord nears it becomes obvious that he is even taller and broader than he appears in holos. Despite his stature he moves with fluid grace, contrasting the brutish swagger commonly found in many other high-ranking imperials. Rumors do him no justice at all. everything Piett has ever seen or heard has been insufficient in every way. And yet in spite of it all the thing that astounds him the most is that all the rumors he's heard have so vastly undersold his very presence-

Without warning the dark lord directs his attention further up the line, completely ignoring a rather large number of the officers in favor of something specific instead. His hidden gaze sweeps over the rows and then settles on Piett's own gaze as he comes to a halt.

For a handful of seconds the galaxy might as well have stopped its spinning as they regard each other. His presence is overwhelming. The eerie cold surrounding him nearly tangible-

A vague sense of dread sets in as Piett realizes his unwitting lapse in propriety. With another dry mouthed swallow he slowly lowers his eyes from the black lenses and bows his head. One rasp of breath rings in his ears. Two, three... then the sound of boots against the hangar floor and the dark lord continues on with measured strides.

The man directly in front of Piett is shaking with fear. The other officers around him are giving him shocked, incredulous glances. He keeps his head bowed, equally shocked and incredulous with himself-

The snap of Vader's boots goes silent and Piett looks up just in time to see the nod he gives. Two troopers rush forward and grab the officer he had motioned to. The man cries out in surprise and then starts babbling incoherently, resisting the hold of the stormtroopers as he pleads with them. "No- please- I'm not a spy, I never-"

"And why would you believe I was searching for a spy?" Even Piett flinches as his voice booms across the hangar, tone dry and laced with an unexpected level of sarcasm.

Vader clasps his hands behind himself and stalks around the prospective traitor now held between the troopers.

"I- I don't know- it just seemed as if that must be what you were-" The man stops mid sentence with a sickening gurgle. He wrenches one arm away from the trooper holding it and reaches for his throat. The other trooper relinquishes his hold as well and the man pitches forward onto his knees as he struggles for breath.

The dark lord shows no sign of effort, no change in demeanor at all. That might be more frightening than the proverbial temper he is said to possess. As the man continues choking and gasping Vader returns his attention to the lineup, sweeping his gaze across them again. The line shudders collectively.

When he speaks his voice is akin to the warning roll of thunder preceding a storm. "May this traitor serve as an example of what you should expect, should you choose treason."

Suddenly the man is wrenched backwards by unseen hands, head twisting unnaturally in a flurry of movement and with the sickening, wet pop of bone breaking. Then he falls forward, lying still and lifeless against the pristine black floor of the hangar.

Again Vader rounds on the man, circling him like a wild animal would its prey. The admiral orders them to return to their posts and they all begin to file out the way they came in, the dark lord watching them as he stands over his kill. Piett is sure he must be imagining the feeling of eyes boring into the back of his head.

As he exits Piett is jarred from his thoughts by the same officer he saw earlier, the one with the unpleasant tick. Visible through the crowd between them the officer, while repeating the action of his tick, spits something into his hand and pockets it. None of the other men seem to notice, too concerned with getting well away from the dark lord.

Piett blinks at his retreating back and continues down the hall towards the lifts.

 

*

 

After his shift is over Piett has the mental space to process the events of the day. Most notably the questionable actions of the officer with the tick and his own ridiculous behaviour. What had he been thinking? He hadn't been, of course, but he's not the sort to make such a grave error. Stars, I practically instigated a staredown with the most powerful man in the galaxy.

Second most powerful, technically. Then again he has certainly not met the emperor, and he is now inclined to believe that Vader could never be seconded unless explicitly proven otherwise.

As he stands in line for dinner in the mess-hall his thoughts flip between berating himself for his own foolishness, and wondering about the strange behaviour of the officer with the tick. As he waits he notices several men from his unit already seated and eating discussing the events in the hangar. A handful of youngsters all listening attentively to their leader: a portly white-haired man with a mustache. Someone quite content to finish out the rest of his tenure in the safety of data analysis, all the while preaching to his little pack of admirers.

"...Whether his abilities are natural or not doesn't matter, Lord Vader is efficient. Results are all that's important." The white-haired man - Captain Suutrar - stabs the air with his fork, punctuating his words.

Suutrar's popularity with the younger officers was due his personality, in lieu of any practical reason. He was no more remarkable than any of the other officers that had ended up in data analysis, except that his overly loud and confident sermons had a way of inspiring loyalty. His orating abilities might have been useful had he any actual ability as a leader... or ability in the field, for that matter.

Two of his acolytes are in a conversation of their own- one miming out a hyperbole of the tick in jest. Apparently Piett hadn't been the only one to notice afterall.

Captain Suutrar finally realizes they are not paying him adequate attention, and interrupts. "Oi- what are you two on about?"

They both look sheepish. "Apologies sir, we were just having a bit of a laugh-"

"Did you notice anything else about the officer with the tick?" Piett steps nearer as he interrupts, still in line but close enough that his voice won't carry. He doesn't see him anywhere but he doesn't want the officer with the tick to overhear, mostly because has no desire to humiliate him if his suspicions turn out to be inaccurate.

The youngsters all turn to look at him as Suutrar scowls. The one that was miming the tick out before speaks up. "Anything else? What do mean by that?"

The officer in line behind Piett huffs in annoyance, and he realizes the line has moved on without him. He steps entirely to the side with a frown. So much for a timely dinner this evening. "Did he take anything out of his pocket, perhaps? I noticed him behaving strangely after we exited the hangar. While it might be harmless, if more than one of us saw something unusual it would be negligent not to report-"

There is a rough bark of laughter, and they all look back to Suutrar.

"Unusual? The only person I saw do anything unusual today was you, Piett." He wags his fork at him as he speaks. "If you have a death wish, do us all a favor and throw yourself out of an airlock instead of attempting suicide via dark lord. And you leave poor Lieutenant Ruffa alone, he just had a bout of nerves is all. I oughta' report you for being so disrespectful to Lord Vader."

With that Suutrar takes a swig of his caf, appearing supremely pleased with himself. Too dense to realize that reporting someone for being disrespectful to Lord Vader of all people would be the most absurd notion in the galaxy. If Vader had wanted him reprimanded he would have done it himself.

Regardless, Suutrar's dismissal of him had been loud (on purpose, assuredly) and Piett is now being stared at again. The youngsters seem to have noticed the glaring hole in Suutrar's threat, looking between him and Piett in confusion, but none of them say anything. With a final glance at them all and a slight nod towards the one who had spoken to him he leaves the mess-hall to retreat to barracks. Sans dinner.

 

*

 

Most of the off-duty officers had still been in the mess-hall or elsewhere on the ship, so Piett had found the barracks mercifully empty. He's staring intently at the underside of the bunk above his when one of the young officers from earlier walks in.

"Uh- hello sir."

"Hello..." He sits up, tilting his head in question. "I suppose I should ask why you're here."

"You mentioned reporting Lieutenant Ruffa... I didn't want to say so at the time, but I have been suspicious of him."

The officer shifts on his feet nervously, scanning the barracks to make sure they're alone before coming closer. "You asked if he had taken something out of his pocket on the way to the hanger, and I didn't see anything like that. But he's strange- he acts so nervous all the time, but he doesn't have the eyes of a nervous man. His eyes are cold. Captain Suutrar feels sorry for him, and Ruffa seems like any of the other blokes, quite fond of the ol' captain..."

He shakes his head, and Piett prompts him a little. "But? You don't believe it's genuine?"

"No sir. It feels almost manipulative. I haven't wanted to say anything, figured I was overreacting."

"I see." It's very little information, and hearsay no less, but it is all in line with Piett's concerns. "What's your name?"

The young officer fidgets. "I'd rather not say, sir. I figured I should help you if I could, but I don't want to get involved."

The muscles in Piett's jaw tighten. He understands the youngster's concern, of course. A bad mark on his record if this turns out to be nothing, or entanglement if it turns out to be something. Even so, such blatant disregard for any sense of duty or obligation is grating. But the young officer decided to come at least. Piett could find out his name easily enough, but he won't.

"That is unfortunate. But thank you, all the same."

The young officer nods at him, mirroring the one Piett had given him earlier, and leaves.

 

*

 

The morning after his discussion with the young officer Piett had gone to one of his superiors regarding Lieutenant Ruffa. He'd been called in for a formal interview several days after. That was several weeks ago now, and he'd assumed that was the end of it. It seemed unlikely that he would be updated on the matter. He considered himself lucky that it hadn't resulted in him being reprimanded, since it had been such a vague report and rather suspect.

Thus, he is surprised when an ensign interrupts his work and tells him to follow. Perhaps he is to be reprimanded after all.

They make their way through the nearly completed station. Piett is further surprised when he is led not to one of the meetings rooms on the level he had his interview on, but instead to an entirely different level he's never been on at all. Eventually they come to their destination, and the ensign steps to the side of the doorway and motions him in. Piett wants to ask him the specifics of the meeting, but that be both improper and likely pointless. Instead he merely clasps his hands behind himself and steps up to the door.

It slides open to reveal a dark meeting room with a circular table, as well as Grand Moff Tarkin himself and opposite him-

Piett's eyes immediately land on the black helm as it pivots towards him, and he finds himself pinned in the same unfortunate situation as he had been in the hangar. Though it could hardly be considered his fault this time. He's surprised that he hadn't realized Vader was in the room beforehand, since he can certainly feel that familiar cold permeating through his veins now.

"...Ah yes, Captain Piett." The grand moff's voice seems amiable, though Piett knows better than to believe it. As he moves to stand Piett takes the opportunity to drop Vader's gaze, focusing instead on the grand moff. "I'm glad to see you're not as afraid of my friend as so many of your colleagues are."

Piett blinks and swallows before answering, inclining his head in bow. "Lord Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin. I am honored to stand before you both, though I am not certain of why I have been summoned-"

"Oh you know the reason, I assure you." Tarkin smiles unpleasantly, rounding the table as he absentmindedly runs one hand over the backs of the chairs encircling it. "Your report was brought to my attention. Would you repeat it again, in summary?"

Piett's confusion with the situation only deepens, and he glances from the grand moff to Vader and back again. "Of course sir. Approximately three weeks ago I observed Lieutenant Ruffa appearing to use his nervous tick as a misdirection as he pocketed an item. Due to his other suspect behaviour and the presence of the spy that Lord Vader executed I became suspicious that he was a spy himself, perhaps in cooperation with the one that was executed. I believe the item I originally saw him pocket was a suicide pill in case-"

"That's enough, thank you. Now tell me, did you worry that your report would insult Lord Vader's abilities?"

All at once he can't breath- though that is thankfully due to own body's betrayal and not some unseen noose. "Pardon?"

"Lieutenant Ruffa was present when the other spy was executed, you were aware of this. You must have wondered why Lord Vader made no notice of him?"

Piett swallows again, realizing his oversight. I should not have judged Captain Suutrar for his err so harshly. "No sir, my only concern was for the security of the Empire and my duty to report on a possible threat, regardless of the situation surrounding it."

The grand moff spares Vader an amused glance and then turns back to him with a patronizing smirk. "Calm yourself, captain, you sidestepped any possible insult very well. You mentioned other suspect behaviour. Perhaps other officers shared your concerns?"

Piett ignores the condescending remark, more worried about if the young officer that had come to the barracks had submitted his own report, or if the grand moff had somehow found out about their conversation. For an instant he considers mentioning him, but it would surely cause consequences for the young man. He will not betray someone who came to him in confidence. "No sir, not that I'm aware of."

As soon as the words are out of his mouth the dark lord fixes him with his blackened stare once more. Then he remembers rumors of Vader's telepathic abilities, and his stomach drops. He glances up to meet the lenses of his mask and then quickly away, waiting for him to exact retribution for Piett's lie himself or else mention it to the grand moff. But the axe never falls. Vader drops his gaze before the grand moff has a chance to notice.

"Interesting. In that case you have good instincts." The grand moff takes a step closer, leering over him. "Such an earnest, dutiful servant of the Emperor. The Empire needs more reliable cogs such as yourself. Don't you think Vader?"

Though the dark lord is practically unreadable, Piett is suddenly hit with the sense that the man is profoundly irritated by Tarkin's remarks.

Vader stands with his thumbs hooked into his belt. For the first time since Piett's arrival he speaks, leveling Tarkin with a glare. "The Empire has no shortage of cogs."

Again that surprisingly sarcastic tone. Despite the situation Piett finds the comment amusing.

If Vader's remark displeased him Tarkin doesn't show it. Instead he turns, striding back around the table to sit in the chair at the head of it. "As I'm sure you've realized, you were not summoned here only to give a summary of your report. I will admit I had no intention of making you privy to the following information, however Vader was quite adamant that telling you would be beneficial to us."

Piett forcibly refrains from glancing at the dark lord, knowing the unmoving angles of the mask will offer no explanation.

"Vader was already aware of Ruffa. He and the other spy were not in cooperation with each other, we believe Ruffa is actually a Black Sun operative. The fact that he was in the hangar that day was entirely coincidental."

Piett had grown quite familiar with the huge crime syndicate known as Black Sun during his days in the Axxilan Anti-Pirate Fleet. Tarkin studies his reaction as Piett's brow furrows. Then he gives a single curt nod. "You may speak freely."

"I assume Ruffa is being left alive for a reason?"

"Yes. We have yet to find irrefutable proof of Black Sun's involvement. We are monitoring the operative until he makes a mistake."

Despite the leniency Vader and Tarkin have shown him thus far Piett doesn't dare question their reasoning further, though it seems like absolute proof shouldn't be necessary. Instead he asks, "And what benefit might I be to you, now that I know this?"

"You will keep an eye on him and report anything else you notice. Normally someone of your level would not be trusted with such a delicate mission, however due to your prior experience in the anti-pirate fleet and Vader's confidence in the fact that you can be trusted I will make an exception."

This time Piett can't keep himself from glancing at the dark lord, though he immediately returns his eyes to Tarkin's. "I am honored to be of service."

Again that unpleasant smile. "You will be given an updated code-cylinder with contact information, should you have anything to report. If you have no further questions then you are dismissed."

 

*

 

Piett had left the briefing with Tarkin and Vader more confused than he'd been about anything else in career. Ignoring Vader's endorsement of him there were a great many things that didn't add up. If Ruffa was who Tarkin said he was it should be a simple matter of detaining him and torturing him for any possible information (though he was likely outfitted with some sort of kill-switch implant which would trigger as soon as he was exposed to the stressors of torture).

Why this strange play for what would likely be negligible information? Why was Black Sun even on the station at all? It was manned far too heavily for Black Sun to attempt a takeover.

Despite his questions his years in the navy had taught him not to second guess orders. In all likelihood there was more he was not being told, on purpose.

In the end his efforts were fruitless. Months had passed with him finding out virtually nothing. He had been tempted to employ some of his old skills from his anti-pirate days to get something useful, but given that his freedoms were limited and he hadn't been ordered to in the end he had decided it wouldn't be worth the risk.

When he is again interrupted by ensign during his shift he expects he is going to be chided for the lack of results. Or worse...

He is again surprised when he is taken to a level equally as unfamiliar as the one he was taken to before. Somehow he finds himself standing before Grand Moff Tarkin again, this time in his office. Tarkin doesn't look up from whatever he's signing as Piett steps into the room. The design is intimidating, a large room with heavy, dark furniture and costly decor. Strange to see such ornate things after spending so long in the brutalist, minimalist rooms and hallways of ships.

He bows. "Grand Moff Tarkin-"

"Captain Piett. You may sit." Piett feels his jaw muscles tighten, but he obeys. Somehow this feels far worse than when Vader had been present. Funny that the dark lord's presence should be any consolation.

They sit in silence until Tarkin finishes whatever he is working on and puts away his datapad. Finally Tarkin looks at him and says, "You're not being reprimanded for your lack of progress with Ruffa- in truth I was not particularly optimistic on that front to begin with. You are being given two new assignments."

Piett quirks an eyebrow in question but waits for him to continue. Tarkin stands, rounding the desk to lean against it with his arms crossed. Piett resists the urge to stand as well, and looks up at him.

"The first is a temporary assignment with Lord Vader. He requested you join him and his men on a mission to Near Pando. The second is that I want you to report on that mission."

A bitter chill comes over Piett, far less pleasant than the one that seems to announce Vader's presence.

"You're an intelligent man, captain, surely you thought that your briefing and my explanation were lacking. According to Vader you have an unusually strong mind, while not force-sensitive yourself you possess a certain immunity to the abilities of force-sensitives. Ruffa is believed to be a force-sensitive. Now you understand why Vader believed you were best suited to watching him."

Piett's thoughts go back to the young officer, and how only him and Piett seemed to have suspected Ruffa at all. From the way Tarkin was speaking about it, and the way Vader had behaved, it seemed like it was supposed to be a rare thing. Then again with a million crew strong odds were one or two rarities might pop up in the same place. However, mystical immunity is the least of Piett's concerns at the moment.

"Why do you need to link Ruffa to Black Sun?" Tarkin's eyes narrow.

"Rest assured there is a very good reason. One I cannot tell you."

"Then why do you want me to report on Lord Vader?"

Tarkin smiles that small, tricksy smile, perhaps amused by Piett's candor and gumption. "While I found Vader's interest in you strange I must admit I share his assessment of your loyalty and sense of duty. Now I am appealing to that sense of duty. The man Vader executed in the hangar was not a spy, and Vader told me otherwise."

Another chill passes over him. "You suspect that-"

"I suspect that Vader has grown more concerned with his own ends than with those of the Empire. He believes that you might be of some use to him- perhaps he intends to mislead that sense of duty he saw in you. I want you report to me, and only me, on Lord Vader's missions, dealings, et cetera. Anything of note. Will you do that for your Empire?"

Piett shuts his mouth, still open from when he'd been interrupted. He doesn't know what to say. In spite of what Tarkin has told him he feels a sense of loyalty towards the dark lord, even more misplaced than his loyalty to the young officer had been. But he quickly realizes that whatever his actual decision will be, he can answer in only one way. "Yes, yes of course."

There is a beat of silence. Then it stretches. Tarkin uncrosses his arms and drums his fingers on his desk. "You aren't married, are you captain? No family, only your sister and nephews?"

Piett's blood goes cold in an entirely different way. "That's correct sir."

"They could benefit greatly if you were promoted, it would open doors for your nephews." Then, almost an afterthought. "The admiral of the Executrix is retiring."

For a fleeting instant Piett's conscience betrays him, and all his long dead dreams of starships and space-battles come flooding back. But they are gone as quickly as they came. Tarkin's words are spoken in such a way that even experienced men might question their own judgement, presented as a bribe, but they are threat. He will stick to his morals and make the best judgement he can of Lord Vader, well away from Tarkin.

He nods and makes himself appear earnest, feigning exactly what Tarkin wants to see. "I understand sir."

Chapter Text

Piett stares at himself in the mirror as he does up his uniform and straightens his collar. For once the communal fresher is virtually empty as it's several hours before the usual shift starts.

Rumor had spread (how exactly he doesn't know) that he had been temporarily reasigned to one of Vader's units. The previous evening the other officers had looked at him like a man marked for the gallows. Even if it’s true I still have to go, regardless. I still want to go, regardless... with that thought he turns away from the disapproving eyes of his own reflection, taking his gloves off the counter and pulling them on as he exits the fresher.

He makes his way through the barracks and out into the halls, heading for a distant hangar. After his first conversation with the grand moff and the dark lord he had put his questions out of mind- it had been safer not to think, so he'd simply resigned himself to ignorance. However after Tarkin's accusations and thinly veiled threat he hadn't been able to overlook the events of the previous months any longer.

Unfortunately, despite many sleepless he is still no closer to unraveling the tangled mass of questions and confusion. Tarkin's nonchalant mention of the force had been nearly as jarring as the realization that Vader had taken any notice of him at all, since knowledge of the force and the Jedi Order had been practically eradicated by the Empire. To hear an imperial, a grand moff no less, speak about it so plainly was unsettling.

This scenario he finds himself in is still too large and unwieldy for him to grasp. Experience has taught him it is usually better to say as little as possible under such circumstances.

He schools his expression as he walks through the hangar door. Thankfully, as it slides open to reveal both his superior Commander Notka and Captain Suutrar speaking with a stormtrooper in front of the shuttle.

Suutrar is once again sporting that terribly pleased and self-congratulatory expression on his face. Notka is all business, as she usually is, with tightly pursed lips and overly rigid posture. Suutrar spots him immediately and gives him an unpleasant smile that rivals even Tarkin's. Notka on the other hand pays him no mind.

With a deep breath he walks up to them, and interrupts. "Commander Notka, I'm afraid there must be some mistake. I was told my reassignment was requested by-"

She quirks an eyebrow at him and glares. "There is no mistake Piett. If Lord Vader is in need of a data analyst for this mission, then Captain Suutrar is the best we can offer. You may return to your post."

Piett replies, tactfully, "With all due respect commander, I must insist that this decision be approved by Lord Vader before I return to my normal duties."

Suutrar's eyes go wide. Notka glares at him even more intensely. "Are you questioning my orders-"

They all look towards the entrance when the hangar doors open again. Piett, Notka and Suutrar step to the side respectfully as the troops all snap to attention.

The dark lord strides in flanked by two stormtroopers with yellow pauldrons on their shoulders. When Vader is near enough, the three of them bow. Then Notka speaks. "Lord Vader, my apologies for-"

"I do not recall requesting a second analyst." Vader stops just before the ramp as the two stormtrooper commanders continue into the shuttle.

Though the features of the helm are unreadable, the impenetrable stare of the mask is far more intimidating than any usual expression of disapproval would be.

Now face to face with the dark lord Suutrar seems to have shrunken in on himself. Notka scrambles for a moment, unused to being interrupted. "No Lord Vader. I was replacing Captain Piett with Captain Suutrar, he is our senior analyst and more suitable for-"

"Senior?  Commander Notka?"

She blinks stupidly for a moment before answering. "Yes, Lord Vader-"

"Given the relative comfort your unit enjoys, I doubt a senior officer would still be suitable for fieldwork." Without giving her or Suutrar time to say anything else he wheels, heading up the ramp with his cloak flowing in his wake.

Piett gives one last look to Notka, and follows.

 

*

 

Soon after boarding he has a cuirass shoved at him. Then he discovers what their mission to Near Pando will entail. The briefing is only cursory- apparently Lord Vader's men had been in negotiations with the Hutts (given that Near Pando is in Hutt Space) regarding a certain ancient structure known as the Malabar Ruins for some time. Having finally reached an agreement they are now tasked with securing the ruins.

Vader had disappeared into the cockpit as soon as he and Piett had boarded the shuttle. Piett had gotten a few looks from the other officers and troopers on board, presumably because he's not part of their squad and because he came in with Vader (in his defense they hadn't been scheduled to leave for another hour). What with the frequency it's been happening recently he's beginning to get used to the staring.

Normally he would be content gazing out into hyperspace, but lambda shuttles don't have viewports, save for the cockpit. Mercifully the journey from Scarif to the edge of Hutt Space takes only a few hours, and he isn't left alone with his thoughts for long.

The shuttle lands in a flat, yellow field. The planet is relatively undeveloped, what with its rather inhospitable duracrete-hard ground and harsh winds. Difficult enough to be costly, but not difficult enough to be some alluring prize once bested. Besides that the planet seems to attract bad luck. Smugglers and bounty hunters often use it as a resting place, preferring its relative safety to the dangerous, bustling hive of Nar Shadda.

It's only a short trek to the ruins. Stormtroopers, perhaps a platoons worth, have already secured the area surrounding the construct. Despite the apparent harmlessness of the situation, and the protection afforded by the dark lord's presence, Piett feels a pang of unease. Something is off. The skittishness of the troops and other officers indicates they are feeling the same.

Vader strides up to the entrance of the compound, unfazed by whatever it is setting the rest of them on edge. A general approaches him, boots and uniform streaked with red clay dirt.

"Lord Vader, the compound has been secured. We await your orders."

The dark lord studies the cracked, brown slabs of stone that comprise the building before them. "None of your men have entered it yet?"

"Yes Lord Vader, we secured only the perimeter as you instructed."

"Assemble another squad." He starts forward again, heading towards the gaping doorway (broad enough to permit a small vehicle) still criss-crossed with plants.

As the general motions more troopers over Piett and rest of them make their way up to the doorway as well-

"Lord Vader, I presume you want to leave the analyst stationed outside?"

Piett turns to look back at the general, but quickly returns his focus to Vader when he answers, "No, general."

There is a long pause. Then the general continues, "Sir if you expect we might find something worth looking at surely it can be brought out. Analysts don't have the same on-going training-"

Piett feels a prickly chill go over him, and the general falls silent as Vader ducks under the vines in the doorway and disappears from view. Piett looks back at the general again and this time is met with an apologetic shrug as he is motioned onward.

He bites back the smirk forming on his lips as he follows the troopers into the building.

The doorway goes straight into darkness for a time and then drops off to a steep ramp. Somehow Piett ends up migrating towards the front of the group. Ahead of them Vader's back has merged with the shadows, the light from their glow-sticks glinting off his helm.

Without warning, the ramp flattens out again and they are in a large atrium with carved pillars that extend up into nothingness. Their lights don't reach the ceiling.

Vader goes deeper into the darkness and stops, waiting for them all to funnel into the room.

The general steps forward, already holding his blaster rifle at the ready. Vader turns and nods towards one of the many doorways leading off the atrium. "Search for the archives, once they are found return here and await further orders. Harm nothing..."

With that Vader moves off towards the end of the atrium, merging again with the humid dark surrounding them. The rasp of his breath fades with startling abruptness.

They stand in silence for a handful of seconds, then the general huffs- seeming unhappy with Vader's orders. "All right men, split up- four to a group. Don't kill it unless it tries to kill you first."

 

*

 

An hour passes as their separate bands search through the maze-like structure. The expansive underground system just seems to keep growing. The layout has little rhyme or reason, alternating between grand rooms big enough to house a shuttle and narrow passages they have to pass single-file. Both the walls and the floor are the same brown stone. The gloom quickly became disorienting.

Piett's cuirass is a couple sizes too large. Between that and the sweat he's going to have blisters. The three troopers with him have resorted to grumbling and muttering amongst themselves. Such a pleasant excursion.

They haven't run into any of the others since leaving the main atrium. No com chatter either. The rooms they pass are completely empty. Thankfully, their mapping devices are working well enough and they should be able to find their way back regardless, but it makes the search seem that much more useless. Piett wonders not for the first time what exactly Vader's purpose in coming here was.

He half expects Vader to be looming in the shadows whenever they round a corner or whenever he turns to cast his light back behind them. Of course that's ridiculous. But is it really? Perhaps haunting us from the shadows would be sport to a dark lord-

All at once their ears ring with blaster fire and yelling- loud and close by. One of the troopers up ahead of him fires his own blaster off by accident, earning the reprimand of his fellows.

"Kriffing hell Digs!"

"I know, I know-"

The third trooper fiddles with the controls for his built-in helmet com. "Coms aren't working. Hey, you're in communications aren't you? Can you fix it?"

The trooper looks at Piett, holding his glow-stick up. Piett squints against the light and grimaces, sweat dripping into his eyes. "Data and communications analysis, not networking or infrastructure-"

"Of course not." The trooper shakes his head and pushes past him in the narrow hallway. "C'mon, we've got to help them."

Piett lets the other two troopers go ahead of him, and they all take off down the hall, running half blind as they make their way towards the noise.

Then more blaster fire sounds, but it's further off this time and from a different direction. Their small party slows to a walk, the troopers arguing about which direction to go and whether the map is accurate-

A strange, creaking noise echoes down the passage from directly ahead of them, like the whine of overburdened cable or rope.

"Run! Ahh-" The trooper at the front falls, dragged away as he shoots at whatever had grabbed him. The other two stormtroopers barrel over Piett, pushing him to the side as they take off.

He runs after them, but ducks into the first room off the corridor he can- hoping to circle around whatever is pursuing and somehow find his way to the atrium and hopeful safety.

Not a minute later he hears more yells the crack of armor breaking from ahead and to the right, despite the fact that the troopers were heading in the opposite direction. He slides to a halt and doubles back on his path, this time seeing he somehow missed a turn in the dark.

As he runs down it he considers abandoning his glow-stick, less it give away his position, but to be caught blind and cornered would be even worse. Confusion sets in as he passes a familiar doorway, one marked with unreadable script. That's wrong, I shouldn't be back here yet.

He keeps running until he reaches one of the larger rooms and then finally stops, panting. At first he thinks he might have made his way back to the atrium, but then he realizes it is smaller and has fewer paths leading off of it. More of a foyer. He still isn't sure how his group missed this on their way in.

His lungs burn as he holds his breath, listening for any sound of pursuit. All he hears is the pounding of his own blood in his ears. What had come after them? Piett hadn't been able to see anything. The troopers might have, given that they had some level of nightvision in their helmets. Little good that did them.

Upon looking around he realizes this large hall leads to another doorway. On impulse he moves towards it.

Beyond it he finds another room- remnants of the archives Vader had sent them searching for. Two story shelving units and old-style staircases that are far more nuanced than any of the other workmanship Piett has seen in the place.

But all the shelves are empty, long since abandoned, looted and then abandoned by time itself. Vines like those at the entrance drape here and there, and a tangled mass of greenery bursts through the brown stone at the center of the room.

He resolves to quickly search the archives for anything of use and then attempt to make his way out-

Before he can comprehend what is happening something coils around his ankle, again with that aching creak of overstretched rope, and he falls face first into the stone floor.

The coiled mass of vines writhes as sentient and dextrous as the arms of some tentacled ocean creature. The first thought that occurs to him is that his study of botany will lend him little aid against this thing. While he's familiar with the idea of semi-sentient plants the books had neglected to mention anything of this level.

His second thought is more useful, and he manages to reach for his blaster and twist himself onto his back before more of the vines wrap themselves around him.

He brings the blaster to bear at the center of the mass, but stops-

The coils around him are tight but have caused no injury. The creaking groan of the plant is the only noise to be heard. Vader's orders hammer incessantly at the inside of his skull, 'harm nothing.'

Piett swallows and lets the blaster drop from his hand. It clatters across the stone.

The coils tighten, but then release completely, pulled back in as if on a reel.

With another swallow Piett stands, slowly, and dusts off his pants. He makes no move to retrieve his blaster-

"A wise course of action, Captain Piett."

Somehow Piett manages not to jump as the threatening sound of Vader's voice echoes off the stone walls. He turns to find the dark lord only a few paces away, having stepped out from the back of the room, apparently.

The glow-stick now abandoned on the floor casts strange lighting. Belatedly it occurs to Piett that Vader had walked off into the dark earlier with no light-source at all. Presumably his helmet had the same nightvision that the trooper's did, or better. Somehow Piett thinks he has need of neither glow-stick or nightvision.

"You knew where the archives were the whole time." The words are out of his mouth before he can think. He surprises himself with his boldness.

"Yes. Neither of us were transparent in our reasons for coming here today." Vader moves his hands out from under his cape to clasp them behind himself as he begins circling around where Piett stands. "You had no intention of acting on Tarkin's request, and yet you were also in no hurry to make me aware of his betrayal. Why?"

Piett takes a breath, steeling himself. "Tarkin is arrogant and manipulative, but I do not believe he was lying about the man you killed in the hangar. I could not aid you in good conscience knowing that."

Vader stops, looking at him square on from where he stands a handful of strides away with his hands still clasped behind himself. "While it is true he did not commit the crime of which he was accused, his death was necessary. Does that satisfy your conscience?"

Piett doesn't have an answer for that. He chews on it for a long moment, considering the other questions on his mind as well-

Then he notices the blue and green light now shining out from behind him, and turns to look at the plant. Instead of mottled green and brown its leaves and vines shine with iridescence.

"It is harmless, now that the threat is removed. Come." With that Vader moves to the stairs, taking the steps three at a time. Piett retrieves the glow-stick and jogs after him.

 

*

 

The compound is far less maze-like with Vader guiding him. In fact between the dark lord's confident navigation and the neon lighting now afforded by the same plant that had menaced him and the troopers, the place is almost laughably harmless compared to its initial appearance.

Within ten minutes they are back in the atrium. Seemingly all the troopers have returned, to Piett's surprise.

One of the yellow-pauldroned commanders steps up as they approach. "Lord Vader, the general is still missing. We believe he-"

"He did not heed my orders." Vader continues up the ramp without stopping. After a moment all the troopers follow them- many limping along with minor injuries.

When they finally make their way to the surface other troopers and medics swarm them, along with several officers. One officer, a hawk-nosed individual, takes inventory of their group and then turns to Vader- now standing to the side looking back down at the bleak chasm they just climbed out of.

"Where's General Ellihous?"

Vader focuses on the officer, considering him in silence before he answers. "Atoning for his sins, I presume."

The dark humor of the remark is punctuated by the small horror they all just endured. It would be a bleak comment at the best of times, but in such a situation as this it is cruel.

To Piett's surprise the officer gives Vader an almost disapproving look, as if to berate him for it.

Vader ignores the look and makes his way down the hillside as he speaks. "What remains of the Malabar Construct is of no use to us, however the reports you brought me were accurate. There has been recent tampering."

The other officer follows at Vader's heels- Piett follows too, though at a greater distance. "Perhaps I should stay and oversee the continued mission?"

"No. The tampering was not done by the rebels, they have no reason to come here." Suddenly Vader stops, turning to fix Piett in his stare. "However, it would be negligent to leave one of the emperor's new relics unguarded. Captain Piett shall be left in charge of protecting our prize."

It's a slap in the face- left to babysit a building from mere vandals or perhaps a bounty hunter. And yet Vader's voice holds no notes of condescension, none of the usual spite that would accompany a petty order made for mere amusement or retribution. Nor' does any of Vader's usual sarcasm lie in the words.

Piett blinks once, then dips his head in a bow and says sincerely, "Thank you, my Lord."

The officer looks between them, appearing confused and somewhat sorry for Piett. "Very well then, I'll make the arrangements."

Without answering Vader strides off towards the shuttle. Piett watches him for only as long as might seem reasonable, then he turns away and begins calling orders to the squads.

 

*

 

A month and a half later Piett is still stationed on Near Pando. They had covered their tracks and moved away from the construct immediately following Lord Vader's departure and had been keeping watch in a makeshift hideout nearby.

No one had shown up. Whoever had done the initial 'tampering' Vader and the officer (whom Piett had learned was named Daine Jir) had been referring to was long gone.

Despite being temporarily removed from Tarkin's crosshairs Piett feels no relief. There are still too many unanswered questions- more and more seeming to appear the more he tries to unravel them.

Then late one night, in the wee hours of the morning, messages roll in over their scanners. Orders to be on the lookout for increased rebel activity and attacks. No details.

After the message comes in Piett goes out look at the stars, trying to find Scarif's sun.

 

*

 

Eventually a shuttle comes to pick them up. Their assignment is over. Two months of waiting, all for naught.

To his surprise Jir is standing in the field when he and the stormtroopers make their way to the transport. He can tell by the man's eyes he has something to say, so he waits with him until the stormtroopers are safely out of earshot. Piett's gaze flicks down the man's rank plack, apparently he had been promoted to captain since the last time Piett saw him-

"The Death Star has been destroyed."

The shuttle's engines whir as the harsh winds continue to beat against them. Life goes on as if it hasn't suddenly been turned on its head. While Piett had never been in favor of the superweapon, the thought of a million of his comrades being destroyed along with the station is... overwhelming.

Piett searches for words, shaking his head dumbly. "What? How-"

"I'm not sure. The station was completely destroyed along with her crew and Grand Moff Tarkin during an attack on the rebels. They must have found a weakness... the project was classified, as you know. You can't speak of this to anyone."

"I understand."

The other man gives him an apologetic look. Then he takes a code cylinder out of his pocket and offers it to him. Piett takes it, studying it before looking back at Jir.

"What is this?"

"You're being transferred to Death Squadron, specifically to Lord Vader's new flagship. On his orders." The man looks at him intently, full of questions of his own, and through the shock of the Death Star's destruction realization sets in.

Lord Vader had ensured that Piett wouldn't be on the station. 

Chapter Text

"...Don't give me that nonsense Firmus, I can still tell when you're lying you know."

Piett chews on his lip, staring at the grey wall in front of him with the com pressed against his ear.

He knows he will regret his next words, but says them anyway. "So this is really why you commed? You wanted some piece of propaganda confirmed?"

That gives her pause for a moment. "Forgive me for trying to make sure you were alive-"

"There was never a station, there was no attack. It's all terrorist agitprop, nothing more. I don't know where you heard about such a thing, but you would do well to keep better company. I don't want you getting involved with any of this guff."

"Agitprop? What does that- oh never mind. Good to hear you still have time to read books with ridiculous words like that in them." Her voice turns bitter. "As for the company I'm keeping that's none of your business. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and we all know the company you've kept."

He flinches. That remark had been well beyond their usual level of venom-

"...I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that Firmus-"

With a sigh, he says "I know, Elana, it's all right. Just be careful. Give the boys my regards."

Another moment of silence and then his elder sister hangs up, leaving him still staring at the wall.

 

*

 

A few hours after the comcall Piett is on yet another shuttle. This time there are viewports, and so he stares out into hyperspace. It's inadvisable to do so of course, but he's never been able to refrain.

Perhaps he should have told Elana of his new asignment... but no, it only would have made her worry more. Death Squadron is nearly as infamous as its leader, and there are too many stories of officers being executed for one reason or another. Such harsh consequences are almost preferable to the blasé handling of incompetence he has grown used to-

The ship drops out of hyperspace and the stars slowly retract from lines back into pin-pricks of distant light. He straightens and lifts his head from where he was resting it against the transparisteel. One of Kuat Drive Yard's many ship yards looms larger and larger, and then she comes into view, a steely blue-black against the depths of space and the grey of the infrastructure of the ship yard surrounding her.

The Executor. A huge, magnificent arrow-head of a ship far grander than the Death Star or any other vessel or station he's ever laid eyes on. She is sleeker than her star-destroyer sisters, larger than them too. Flanks smoothed bow to stern and not yet marked by battle. She is a regal ship.

She is hidden just as quickly as she appeared as they move towards the docking bay, obscured by other ships and scaffolding. Kuat Drive Yards is still finishing last-minute details on their production.

Perhaps, he thinks, it will be worth all the trouble in getting here after all.

 

*

 

His group is not the first crew aboard the ship- far from it. The initial prep work to get a vessel of such magnitude space-worthy takes weeks even after construction is finished. Thousands upon thousands of men must be brought on board to crew her, to give all her systems the initial tests. Kuat Drive Yards had done tests of their own, with their own crew, but issues are bound to crop up, regardless.

It had come as a surprise to find out he would be stationed on the bridge. In analysis, still, but on the bridge of a proper warship. He hasn't bothered wondering about why since Vader left him on Near Pando- given Vader's rather direct communication in the archives Piett now trusts that the man will offer some form of explanation, eventually. He's trying to actually enjoy his good fortune, for once.

The wait between first seeing her and boarding is far more painful than the shuttle ride to Kuat. His blood is ringing with excitement as they dock and finally disembark. Such excitement is unusual for him, and will settle soon enough, but he allows himself to revel in it as he takes his first look around the hangar. No different from any of the others he's been in, only newer. And yet it's entirely different-

"Form up!" One of the nearby commanders yell, and he and the rest of the officers attempt to organize themselves in an acceptable fashion.

Piett notices the approaching admiral first, and snaps to attention. The surrounding others do the same, but their movements aren't synchronized, and the effect is rather... underwhelming.

The admiral - Kendal Ozzel of Carida, according to the briefing Piett had read - comes to a halt in front of them, breathing a disappointed sigh as he looks them over. Piett is reminded of the late Captain Suutrar, may he rest in peace, as they both share their portly figure and mustaches.

"Well men, I'll forgive your pathetic little display this time, but if you want to live until your next shore leave you'll need to do better. You're not just in the Imperial Navy anymore- this is Death Squadron. You're the best now. Act like it." With that he shakes his head as if already lamenting the inevitable loss of all his new recruits. Then, an afterthought, he queries, "Which one of you is Captain Piett?"

"Me, sir." Piett steps forward without hesitation.

The admiral nods, motioning for him to follow. "Come with me."

With that he turns and strides off, and Piett follows. Ozzel doesn't look at him as they walk.

"You've been stationed on the bridge, captain, as I'm sure you're already aware."

"Yes, sir."

"Being on a star destroyer isn't like being holed up on a station, you know. What leadership experience do you have?"

Already Piett's good mood is waning. Being questioned at every turn is quickly growing tedious. "I've served as a captain for many years now, I've run multiple analysis units and-"

"I mean real experience. In the field, commanding men in important matters."

Piett pauses before answering. "Before I joined the Imperial Navy I was a commander in the Axxilan Anti-Pirate Fleet."

"Ah, well that's actually something then." Ozzel finally turns to look at him as they enter a lift. "It's not for me to question how or why you're here, though your record is unusual for a Death Squadron member. But it is my duty to ensure that you are capable. I don't care how you got here, but I'll care if you krif things up on the bridge. Understood?"

The muscles in Piett's jaw twitch in annoyance at the vulgarity. The admiral is posturing himself, making it clear that any small mistake of Piett's will be dealt with harshly. His ship hasn't even left the docks and already the man is grasping for control.

"Understood."

"Well then... I trust you can find your way to your station." The lift opens, and Ozzel exits, striding off again.

Piett hangs back for a moment, taking in the sight before him. Then he steps onto the bridge and heads for the communications console.

 

*

 

After his orientation he finds his way to the mess hall. Because the ship is not yet fully manned there are more empty seats than usual. That suits Piett just fine.

Halfway into his meal his peaceful solitude is interrupted by an unfamiliar voice. "Hello captain."

He looks up to see a tall, athletic looking chap setting his tray on the table across from him. His eyes flick down to the man's rank plack and then back up.

"Hello, general..."

"Good to see you made it aboard, Piett." Before he can remember whom the owner of the second voice is, Jir steps over the bench and sits beside him.

Piett blinks at them both for a handful of seconds, trying to decide if he's pleased or perturbed by the company. At any rate he's surprised to see Daine Jir again, though he supposes he should have expected the man to be stationed on the bridge of Lord Vader's flagship.

"Captain Piett, General Veers." Jir leans closer to him as he cuts his salad, still looking down at his plate. "Forgive the intrusion, I might have let slip some gossip about your reassignment-"

"Did Lord Vader really steal you away from Tarkin?" The general interrupts, staring at him intently as he chews. "Seems a bit strange, I wonder why he'd-"

With a huff Jir drops both fists to the table, his utensils sticking upwards out of each in a comedic fashion. "Oh by the gods, can't you be a little more tactful?"

Veers shrugs unapologetically as Jir continues working on his salad. Piett decides he's perturbed by the company after all and sets his mouth a thin line

"Lord Vader's reasons are his own. It's none of our concern." With that he returns his attention to his own food, attempting to ignore the general.

After a long pause Veers tilts his head. "You're not from the core, are you?"

Piett meets his gaze again, the muscles in his jaw working in irritation, but Veer's voice is kind.

"Oh I mean nothing by it, you're just not as green as some that get transferred in are. Even the men old enough to know better are too trusting. But it seems like folk from the outer rim can handle themselves. You're more careful." Veers shrugs again, this time to himself it seems. "And of course Lord Vader's reasons are none of our business, I was only curious. I'm lucky to be here, you see. I requested transfer to Death Squadron and was declined- then I was sent to the Death Star, and, well... now I'm here after all. I was wondering what you did to get his attention."

The general studies his food, nearly bashful. Something in his honesty, his earnestness, makes Piett thaw a little.

"In all frankness I'm not sure why I'm here. A trick of fate no different than yours, I expect-"

Jir interrupts, "You can't possibly believe that, can you? Nobody's that dense."

Piett considers his response carefully. Though Vader had not told him to keep any information secret, Piett thinks it is only good sense to do so, anyway. But his answer was true enough. Presumably his force-immunity might be beneficial to the dark lord in some way, however he still isn't certain what Vader intends to gain from him.

Before he can form a suitable rebuttal Jir continues.

"Apparently Vader thought you were worth saving. If he hadn't left you stationed at the ruins you would be dead." Piett's surprise at the other man's candor must show on his face, as Jir answers it, "Don't worry, you're not special. He does this now and again- interferes in the matters of mere mortals. Half the time we never end up finding out why. It probably has something to do with him seeing the future- a small action sending out large ripples, that sort of thing."

Piett quirks an eyebrow. "He can see the future?"

"It certainly seems that way sometimes."

Veers chuckles. "Well done captain, you've solved the mystery. As if that much wasn't obvious already."

"I was merely pointing out that Piett's being here now is hardly accidental."

"Perhaps, or perhaps Lord Vader simply has a hand in fate- no?" Jir shakes his head, plainly irritated by Veer's levity. "I have another question for you Piett, Daine mentioned that the general before me met an untimely end but he isn't sure how. What happened in those ruins?"

"He upset a plant. Lord Vader was most displeased." Piett shrugs and takes a swig of his drink.

Veers and Jir both look at him with confusion, unsure if his words are in jest or not. Veers apparently decides that either Piett is being serious or else is refusing to tell them.

"Well... I'll be sure not to tangle with any bonsai while I'm in Death Squadron."

 

*

 

The rank of captain does not afford Piett the luxury of private quarters, but his new lodgings are far more comfortable than the barracks he had occupied on the Death Star. He shares the room with only a handful of men, all from his unit. They are all of a quiet disposition, and thus his free time is relatively peaceful.

He had brought little with him, so there is little to put away. Uniforms and other clothing mostly. All of his books are on his datapad- having flimsi copies is utterly impractical in this day and age.

His thoughts linger on his conversation with Elana- after a long, eventful day it feels as if it had occurred weeks ago when it was only this morning. He is glad that Tarkin never had an opportunity to make good on his threat. He's not sure what he would have done otherwise... what he would have allowed to happen otherwise. Loyalty or morals? They are both blind and hollow without the other.

And what of Vader's question in the archives? 'Does that satisfy your conscience?' An underhanded remark, and yet honest. Better than Piett's gotten from most of his superiors.

 

*

 

Several days pass, and Piett quickly acclimates to life aboard the ship. Ozzel has been appeased by his capability and efficiency as Piett expected he would be. There is little for Piett to do until they leave the ship yard, but he remains on his feet all day without prompting. He must acclimate himself. There must be no distraction when they have their first real shift.

And that first shift comes sooner than expected. Shortly after he reports for his latest shift frost hits the air. Piett welcomes the sensation.

Whispers pass among the bridge, and the tension builds.

Soon enough Admiral Ozzel's voice is heard coming towards them, along with rasping breath and the snap of boots on the polished floor. "...Kuat Of Kuat has assured me that any remaining issues with the port electrical systems will be negligible, and fully fixable by our own engineers..."

Vader's cloak billows as he passes the communications station. He doesn't look at any of them, unsurprisingly. Most of the men on the bridge don't even look up from their work. Ozzel continues his prattle as Vader mounts the steps to the bridge itself. As he nears the main viewport, he clasps his hands behind himself, staring out into space.

If Piett didn't know better, he would say the dark lord appears almost... agitated. Lacking the disinterested aloofness Piett had always observed. Perhaps due to the new ship? But no. His gaze is still trained out the viewport. His new flagship is of little concern.

After a minute he interrupts Ozzel's rambling. "All drive testing has been completed?"

"Yes my lord. We weren't expecting you for another week, but the ship is space worthy. We await your orders."

Vader continues staring out into the bleak depths before him. "The Avenger has been ordered to eliminate a disturbance in the H'ratth system. We will aid her."

A pause, and then Ozzel dips his head. "Of course my lord. You heard him, set course for the H'ratth system!"

Ozzel's voice cracks as he gives the order. More orders are given by his subordinates, rippling out as the ship is prepared for the jump to hyperspace.

As they maneuver out of Kuat's ship yard for the final time the durasteel seems to thrum with energy. Vibrations from the sublight drives. Soon enough they are clear of the ship yards.

The moment hangs as the ship speeds off into infinity. Piett stares as the distant suns are once again pulled into streaks of energy, reflecting off the black curve of Vader's helm.