Part 1. The boring planet.
Chapter 1. “Lucky” strike.
Tauth was scared, oh so scared.
Every step was hard to do. The gravity generators gone mad again, it seemed, and tried to smear the young officer over the deck’s metal.
But it wasn’t the gravity to be really dreaded of: there were more than enough reasons to fit in a full-scale hysterics. The battleship, as in its current state, could barely maintain the quarter of the nominal staff. There were some decks, where the emergency teams were forced to work in space suits equipped with magnetic holders. Here and there, the fires still go on, even though there was seemingly nothing to burn anymore. The fire protection systems were out of the inert gas reserves a long ago. Many compartments have lost their impermeability, and there was no way to seal them, even with the shields, the shield’s generators were broken almost completely too. The absence of any massive meteorites or garbage pieces was to be considered a pure, blind luck.
The gravi-mines were not strong enough to shatter the hull. Alusteel elements substantially withstood the blasts as well as the following collisions, yet lots of the outer body’s slabs were deformed and lost their joints integrity. Almost two-thirds of the ships power plants were either destroyed or removed automatically in idle mode — out of harm’s way. The power supply network seemed to have been damaged even harder; the staffing lights were failing now and then, in the cruisers aisles and passages, full of burnt plastics fumes.
The battleship almost lost control, and after having come out of Hyper, it could only hold itself up with the orbital drives, a spastic fit to keep a stable tactical positioning. The main hangar, once capable of easily accommodating an Imperial dreadnought, was now a plowed field of metal, littered with military equipment debris and radioactive graphite dust; three hundreds of starfighters, bombers and freighters — what an utter kasha. And one really wouldnt want to imagine the situation at the lower auxiliary hangars.
Losses in manpower, equipment and material resources were so great that the remnants of technical and personnel services still cannot estimate the scale of the disaster. But that was just one of the reasons for Tauth to be dreaded of reporting to Lord Vader directly.
Much more frightening thing was that no one onboard knew the current location of the ship.
Those stars around... they were alien stars.
- How do you mean “unable to determine”, lieutenant? — Admiral Kreef crossly inquired. Well-groomed fingers hoppingly crossed the top of the desk, tapping out some intricate rhythm. — What are you, out of your tiny mind? Drunk now?
- Negative, Admiral, am sane and sober, — now Tauth stood in attention more than it seemed possible, hatefully staring by the crimson Admiral’s face. At the counter side of the desk, in the corner of the Reserve Operational Center there was Lord Vader, standing in total silence. Grim as ever, Dark Lord of the Sith, the massive figure in a black cloak, his wheezing and a fixed matte mask was able to terrify much more tough guys than Tauth. But now, Vader kept the especially unpleasant silence letting Admiral, getting all worked up, to scoff at the young officer.
“They’re looking for scapegoat”, Tauth thought with anguish, “they’ll hang up everything on me — and it will all be over. Power manacles, electric spur, Imperial tribunal on Coruscant. If Im really lucky, theyll let me commit suicide. Then the family won’t be disgraced at least.”
He couldn’t even think of his family now... everything seemed blurred.
- We’re lost, you idiot, dyou read? The brand new Imperial battleship, the biggest, the greatest of them all! It’s a shame, it’s a catastrophe!
Of course, Tauth was not to blame for any shaming or any catastrophing. But the last of the senior fleet officers standing was Admiral himself and the the Protocol Captain of the Fleet named Bannu, mild-tempered, always smiling old man with teary eyes, beared arms three times completely. To hang the blame on Bannu would be too much even for someone like Kreef. The rest of senior officers was buried under the tons of titan and alusteel in the twisted womb of the Executors superstructure, splashed with blood and guts into vacuum, or evaporated with proton torpedo’s flashes in the vaults of the outer hull.
Now Tauth somewhat envied the dead and the wounded. At least, that red-faced hypocrite didn’t bawl at them.
- Lieutenant, d’you understand your behavior is as such a sabotage thing? — Kreef was still burning hot. — What? Ah? No! It is the sabotage! How does it mean “no coordinates”? How dare you show up here with such an impudent look, here, at the Emergency Council, as if the fault is not of yours!.. W-welt!
- Admiral, — the cold heavy voice unexpectedly interrupted the abusing flood.
Tauth, totally lost within the cheerless pictures of the forthcoming tortures, tribunals and executions, forced himself to realize it was Lord Vader finally speaking.
“Admiral, give that traitor and saboteur to me. I will cut him into a thousand small ewok andll throw out into open space”, lieutenant finished the sentence in his mind.
The black masked helmet leaned towards him. Hissing breath escaped from under the vizard like a miser grin. Then Vader turned again, this time to Kreef:
- Admiral, and where have you been at the time of the rebels attack?
Tauth knew the answer very well.
Kreef survived, because at the moment of collision he was in his own luxury cabin on the 29th deck, drinking pink Alderaanian wine, accompanied by one young red-nosed twi’lek girl, that one, from the medical bay. Tauth had overheard her obviously intoxicated laughing on the intercom. It happened when he once again came to Kreefs cabin with a request from Сommander Piett — officers, according to staffing, ranked on the bridge at the beginning of the Executors maiden flight... or half-maiden for lack of a better word. They have been waiting for orders, but to no avail: the Admiral waited just as long as it took to unmoor the mobile building berths. Then he hastily unbuttoned the collar of his full-dress tunic, immediately left the bridge and failed to respond to any calls. Kreef didn’t even bother to open the door then, ordering Tauth to go to hell and never to disturb him again for any imaginable reason.
In twenty standard minutes the clumsy droid-piloted cargo-shuttle bumped accurately into the main hangar and exploded exactly in front of the shield generators power sphere, tearing off the unit from its base, deforming the inner framework and depriving Executor of any possible way to launch deck-based fighters.
One and a half standard minute later, a Calamari frigate whose pilot has either decided to play a hero or just lost control, suddenly fallen out of Hyper. Two ships collided. The frigate has been vaporated, but now shieldless Executor has had its superstructure disfigured.
Almost everyone in the conning tower was killed.
The battleship, brand new, overpowering and overprotected, has ceased to exist. Nineteen kilometers of metal, silicon, plastic, air, armored glass and trembling flesh have rushed headlong — or more precisely, for lack of a superstructure, headlessly — into the brave new journey.
Executor smashed several mobile slipways, undodgy ones, and then knocked down from orbit a Golan-2 type platform, ironically designed to protect the battleship itself during its construction. Another one was stumbled upon, losing half barbettes of the left side, a few support hangars and observation posts. By that time there was no one but droids conscious in the battle hull, so when the Executor has finally stepped on a gravi-mine field, it wasnt really great show-wise, but undeniably effective. Six explosions finished off whats left of the proton and chemical sectors, shield generators and course services of the upper hemisphere. Several more proton charges detonated in vaults. Barracks of both assault legions were strewn with fragments of bulkheads and agrinium crumbs, everything able to burn was burning. Yet 501ers and “blizzards” were lucky that day — most of the divisions staff still remained on shore leave down on the planet, Fondor.
Finally, Executor smashed through the gravi-mines and went out face to face with the first vessels of the nearby supply caravan. Estimated autonomy time of a Super Star Destroyer class ship was six years... quite a caravan it was. There was already nobody, — and nothing, — to stop the battleship, so it successively rammed the first two shuttles, then a dozen heavy transports, with each blow losing several compartments, the outer body slabs, radar installations and turbolaser turrets. The framework still survived, but in the habitable hull there was no one to be uninjured or unconcussed over this lengthy crash-, boom- and bang- course. Luckily, the droids were still functional and the Hyperdrives were still functional, so when the ex-handsome, now disfigured, battleship finally started to inevitably fall into the Fondors gravity well, some of the droids were there in time — in time to most urgently ignite the Hyperdrive. The orbital drives have all but failed by then.
So Executor came into the off-nominal Hyper jump — and even managed to came out of the off-nominal Hyper jump, the fact, by itself, ought to be considered quite an improbable stroke of luck.
Oh, and speaking of luck. Tauth had to die on the bridge, with the rest of the commanding crew — yet he survived. And the only reason he did was because he failed to reach turbolifts in time: he walked and walked on foot, down the 29th deck, trying to calm down a little, soaking in all the intercom insults. Admiral Kreef could display quite a talent when he needed to shoot a couple of well-aimed words to thoroughly humiliate a subordinate.
And now Admiral was humiliating himself.
- Lord Vader, I don’t understand, this has no bearing on the question! This one saboteur refuses even to tell us our current location. This is because of his actions we cannot request help...
The hissing of the dry breathing became even sharper:
- “Help”, Admiral? This is the most powerful ship in the entire galaxy, my personal battle cruiser. The Empire needs this ship. I did not name it the “Executor” for nothing! Now your incompetence has led to such severe consequences.
- Lord Vader, how could you be so bold! Your position at the Emperor doesn’t give you the right to…
- You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.
Kreef choked momentarily, eyelids twitching. Vader slowly raised his hand, matte black glove shifted slightly — and the Admiral suddenly threw his head back, scratching his own throat with nails. Kreef skin turned blue, then almost black, then the Admiral stopped breathing. The juicy crunch of a vertebrae being breaking was heard distinctly in the frozen silence. The body in the full-dress uniform gently slipped on the carpet. Tauth experienced a slight prick of a somewhat shameful pleasure, then realized that he was not breathing too.
- Captain Ignazi, you are in command of the Executor now.
Tauth felt surprised to realize Lord Vader to remember his last name. He intended to remind he was not a captain but just a lieutenant; to observe smartly that twenty-four-years old is a bit too early to command the largest battleship of the Empire; to confess he never even wanted to enlist in the Fleet... — but for some reason all the words in the world have abandoned his now-Captain mind.
Deep inside of his dry and un-understandably strangulated throat there was a dim tickle of terror and delight.
- So, our Navigation Office is not in a state to determine the coordinates of the exit point.
- Affirmative, Lord Vader. The jump was virtually spontaneous, the Hyperdrives were forced from the regular mode to avoid the falling into the gravity well of Fondor. We did not have time to fix the entering point, so we cannot calculate the exit one.
- Have you tried to triangulate at the known stars?
- Lord Vader, our astronavigators are not observing any known stars.
- How could that be, Captain? — and now the Sith Lords voice sounded even more dangerously disgruntled.
- I don’t know, Lord Vader. Navigation droids claim therere no spectral records of the nearest stars stored in our data banks. Including the one which system we are in now. But some banks have sustained damage from the very first explosion, there is a strong possibility some information could be restored eventually. I will make every effort...
- What is that planet below? — Vader obviously had enough problems to consider a problem interrupting a subordinate, whether it is an old or a brand-new captain.
- No information, my Lord. The planet has a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, breathable, — Tauth almost faltered, remembering that Vader’s lungs were burned in some of the great battles of the past — Dark Jedi could breathe only with the help of his nightmarish full-clad mask, or in a special hyperbaric chamber installed in his cabin. Vader, however, did not notice a hitch, so Tauth dared to continue. — The planet has abundant vegetation, oceans, is populated by a relatively intelligent humanoid life form, preliminarily near-Human. And rather primitive settlements are visually observed. We do intercept radio signals, but they are weak... and the droid-translators could not recognize the language.
- It is impossible. Droids know millions of languages.
- That is so, Lord Vader. Yet the languages of these broadcasts are unknown to them.
- “Languages”, Captain?
- More than thirty different dialects isolated already. The droids have begun deciphering.
Vader obviously contentedly turned in the swivel chair.
- Such number of dialects is a clear indication that the inhabitants of the planets are disunited. Excellent.
Not exactly comprehending the point of excellence, Tauth decided to specify carefully:
- My Lord, maybe it’s possible to determine our space coordinates using the Force? I’ve heard that the Force... is it everywhere?
- That is correct. But the shape of this part of the Galaxy is… unexpected. I do not feel the usual ways of the Force here. But do not let it disturb you, Captain. I will take care of it personally.
As the door was finally shut behind the new Captain, Vader slowly approached the miraculously survived armored glass of the cabin. The remaining sections of the panorama were less fortunate — the rough patches of quadanium steel blackened hollowly here and there.
- Starkiller, — Vader said half-voicelessly.
At the very same moment a tall, thin young man wearing an inconspicuous overalls stepped towards him from the deep shade, as if from the outer space itself. The small cylinder of gray metal hung on the right side of his tool belt. Any well-informed person would recognize a lightsaber hilt in the cylinder. Then this smart person, no doubt, would consider the young man to be very confident in his Force affinity, with all that displaying one of the most infamous Jedi weapons so openly.
Young mans lips, the ascetically pursed line, twitched just enough to utter:
- Yes, Master.
The one named Starkiller turned obediently to the light. Attentive gray eyes narrowed, the way they are.
Heavy cloak surged up, the Vader’s fist rammed hardly against a bulletproof glass, as if the Sith Lord would shatter it to break out.
- I feel a great disturbance in the Force, but cannot fathom its nature. You are to go down below.
Starkiller glanced at the Master:
- Yes, my Lord.
The lad turned to the panorama again. Glittering jets of steam were vaporing into space from the plating, instantly freezing to spill themselves out, the colorful placer of snowflakes: the mutilated ship was loosing its air the very merciless way. It was not a big deal, actually, with such a suitable, ready to be claimed atmosphere down below.
The nineteen kilometers long, beaten, orphaned, half-butchered and half-blind starfaring monster hung helplessly in an orbit of a small and, truth be told, rather boring blue-green oxygen planet.