By the time the ground beneath his boots is polished steel rather than the cursed beaches of Scarif, Krennic isn’t quite sure how his legs are still carrying his weight. He feels the lingering ashes in his lungs, swirling and slowing his airflow, making each breath a wearisome, agonizing hassle; his ears are ringing, the ache and pounding in his skull refuses to subside no matter how desperately he vies to will it away.
He hadn’t taken the brunt of the blast — he’d not be alive to tell the tale should he have been in the direct line of fire. The weapon had easily obliterated everything in its path, from spiraling towers to the skin and bones of rebels and Imperial troops alike, cutting through miles of terrain as smoothly as a knife glides through butter. And it was glorious. The blinding light, the scorching heat, the soundless, frozen moments before everything was engulfed in brilliant white — had Krennic not found sanctuary from the aftershocks, he figures it would have been a good enough way to leave this plane of existence: with hard certainty that it worked, that his Death Star was fully and properly operational.
He gets cold stares, both officers and troopers turning from their individual duties to witness the disastrous spectacle he presents — bloodied and charred, dangerous and pitiful all at once, stalking with his head held high through the corridors. He wants to radiate the pride he feels, wants it to emanate from his very being and blind the onlookers with its glory. It would be much easier, he thinks, did he not feel as though his body would give out beneath him at any moment. He knows he’s hardly upright, practically limping in his broken state, lungs heavy and vision swimming; and he feels their words hanging dangerously in the air, though spoken by none: walk of shame. And they mean nothing. For Krennic, it’s quite the opposite.
He’d proven just how lethal his weapon could be, showcased the damage it could do even without being unleashed to its full potential. He doesn’t see what bloodstains and charred tears in his uniform have to do with the undeniable success he’d provided the Empire. Vader had summoned him for yet another audience, following not one but two breathtaking tests of the weapon, beautiful in its destructive capacity. Krennic walks ahead, knows each step brings him closer to personally presenting it to the Emperor himself. He knows that now more than ever, he deserves to speak personally to the highest authority.
His escort swerves to the right, and Krennic hardly has the time to register the movement before nearly he slams into the other trooper assigned to his guard. His brain takes longer to make contact with his body, but he knows it’s naught more than a temporary effect of his surely obtained concussion. Only temporary. The lifetime of glory will be forever.
The troopers adjust their pace to match his damaged response time, to give him the extra seconds he needs to push back the nausea, or cough up the bitter taste of smoke stubbornly clawing its way up his throat.
Five men is a bit much for a mere security escort, he catches himself musing, even if the surplus troopers are simply there to make sure he doesn’t loose his footing and black out before they reach their destination; though the thought is quickly dispersed when the obsidian black doors of the on-board audience chamber come into view. All cognitive processes cease, the only thing remaining on Krennic’s mind being the blissful awareness that there would be no need to grovel this time around. He’d worked wonders.
The doors slide open of their own accord, and the troopers step aside, granting Krennic full access to the room and its sole occupant. They regroup behind him once he takes a quivering step forward, their departure taking away the last shreds of contrast to the fully black interior. He watches the brilliant white of their armor disappear down the hall, then turns his undivided attention to the chamber. He takes a deep breath, swallows thickly despite his best intentions, and uses every inkling of sheer will not to jump when the doors slide shut and slam behind him.
Vader stands, an ethereal creature, not fifteen paces away. Krennic forces himself not to worry, forces down his irrational fear — he knows Vader can smell it, that he can sense each and every thought and emotion flickering through anyone’s mind. Krennic had witnessed the impossible firsthand: he’d been given an unforgettable demonstration of the mystical Force that so many considered just that: a myth. Yet now he stands before his overlord a better man — accomplished and worthy of the praise he’s sure to receive.
Yet his mind acts out against him, refuses to stay blank.
“Satisfied, are we, Director?” Vader says with no preamble, the inquiry not quite phrased as a question. Krennic swears he can hear a twinge of humor in the voice, as though Vader is anything remotely close to human.
That, and an edge of undeniable anger. Krennic takes an instinctive step back despite the innocence of the introduction. His feet move of their own accord before he can stop them. He feels his own exhaustion seeping away, taking with it the hammering ache and waves of agony. He feels it replaced with unbridled panic. No more than one minuscule moment in Vader’s presence and he realizes immediately that something is very wrong.
“It's over. Everything was done — to the extent it could be,” he clarifies immediately, “given the circumstances. My Lord,” he adds, for the sake of propriety, and to placate the storm he fears is on the horizon. “The weapon made not one, but two flawless debuts, regardless of the mishaps and challenges overcome in the process. It’s finished. If I could speak to the Emperor — ”
“And what exactly, Director, makes you think you’ve been summoned here to praise your creation, let alone demand an audience with the Emperor?”
Vader stands inhumanly still, eerie mask glowering down at Krennic’s blatantly cowering form. He’s past the point of keeping up appearances — exertion paints stark lines across his features, he’s certain the sudden pounding of his heart is audible over the ever-present hum of the Star Destroyer’s raging engine. And with a sickening lurch, he knows Vader sees his alarm, hears every scrap of thought shooting through his aching head; that Vader can feel, just as well as he himself can, the blood in his veins freezing to ice in light of Vader’s true intentions.
He struggles to keep his voice from faltering. He feels weak, and Vader feels that weakness. “If not the Death Star — what is it you need, my Lord?”
“It’s long since been apparent that you are unfit to run this operation.”
“ — the obstacles have been overcome,” Krennic interrupts, without thinking. He pauses, waits for Vader’s reaction, and when none comes, he continues. “Despite mishaps, I have prevailed. We — the Empire — have prevailed.”
Vader takes a towering step closer and Krennic’s words die in suffocating silence before they make it past his lips. He pauses to wonder if the temperature in the audience chamber had always been as low as it now feels.
“The Emperor will not stand for the sheer number of casualties this string of disasters has caused; the damage done to facilities, priceless data, irrecoverable intelligence. And as such, the damage your failure has done to morale of the Empire is blatantly irrevocable.”
Krennic finds himself frozen in place — not by the mystical magic, not by any unseen force of the sort other than visceral, paralyzing fear.
The words come out choked, through gritted teeth. “This was not my failure. The damage done is not on myself alone, rather the pompous incompetents striving to push me down from the pedestal. If I could — ”
“Odd,” Vader says, the lone word echoing in the otherwise empty room, and Krennic falls instantly silent. “I quite prominently recall you praising your individual successes, Director Krennic. Is it no longer your work alone, when something goes wrong?”
“My Lord, if I could — ”
A wave of something dark and chaotic in its impossibility comes over Krennic and he feels himself go instantly cold, feels the fight seeping out of his body. His exhaustion grows tenfold, and he stumbles, struggling to stay upright. He knows it’s merely Vader trying to intimidate him, vying to quite literally knock Krennic to his knees in a display of subservience. And despite that, he’s terrified.
“That’s enough, Director.”
“I delivered the weapon,” Krennic hears himself insisting, repeating words that’ve long since run their course. “I’ve done what was required of me. Not once did I cower in the face of — ”
The surge of dark power lashes out at him once more, icy tendrils wrapping in a vice grip around his throat, and his airflow constricts. He desperately tries to remain calm; he tells himself it would all be over in a matter of seconds — like last time — that Vader’s anger would clear, and he would relent. The crushing weight of the invisible force tightens, and Krennic’s head spins, dark spots crowding at the corners of his vision. His lungs ache with the despairing need to draw air; the action growing more and more difficult as his panic soars with each passing second. It’s not until everything blurs before him, until Vader utters the damning judgement, that Krennic realizes exactly what is happening.
“Your usefulness has run its course, Director.”
There’s something unsettlingly peaceful about the revelation — knowing what’s about to happen, and having no command over the few seconds it takes to snuff out the light. It’s a quiet moment of relinquishing control, of giving in to the soothing blackness, the dark nothing wrapping itself around every nerve, every crevice of his being.
Krennic’s awareness is revived for a sharp second, and he finds himself on the ground: his palms, still gloved and shaking, braced on the steel floor to keep him upright. The pressure around his throat doesn't relent, and he feels himself slipping, inching nearer and nearer towards nothingness.
He finds sense in the few scattered thoughts still roaming his mind, still vying for his attention despite the decisive lack of oxygen; he lacks the strength to do anything other than pull on those threads. They say one’s life flashes before one’s eyes a moment before death, and Krennic finds small comfort in the knowledge that his subconscious allows him this one last favor.
He rationalizes his victory: the Death Star, fully operational, his creation, and his alone — he sees Galen, dead, crumpled amidst the burning rubble of the remains of the Eadu facility. It’s odd, to be thinking about Galen Erso in a moment like this. His chest heaves with the agonizing effort to breathe, to bring the slightest slip of air into his lungs, to make it all stop — and he’s thinking of Galen. It’d all started with Galen. He would never have gotten as far as he did without Galen, wouldn’t have achieved a quarter of what he had; yet neither would he have fallen from grace as startlingly as he did. That’s what Galen was — his rise and fall — as much the puppetmaster behind Krennic’s movements as he’d been behind Galen’s. It was the destructive codependency that’d brought about their ruin, their gradual destruction. This is simply the grand finale.
Krennic’s lungs spasm with a final attempt to breathe — he feels his limbs go numb, his arms slipping out from under him as he’s no longer able to support his own weight. The comforting silence washes over, taking with it the harrying thoughts and blistering pain. In the end, it’s a small mercy, how little time it takes, how short the struggle lasts.
And then comes the dreadful realization, to understand too late, that with him dies his glory, his name, his power; that his success will be allocated to the next best contender. The agony resurfaces, and his heartbeat reverberates one last time. Orson Krennic dies alone, unheard, utterly forgotten.