Captain Piett stared in confusion and some trepidation at the summons on his datapad. Why did Lord Vader want to see him, and why such secrecy? He glanced up at the chrono on the wall and frowned. He had three hours to make up an excuse to travel from the Accuser to the Devastator without arousing suspicion. That did not give him much time.
He pushed down his rising anxiety. There was no reason for Darth Vader to be angry with him. He had done nothing wrong, had made no mistakes, and he was careful to make sure that the blame from any missteps made by his subordinates fell directly on them. And the tone of the message did not imply that anything was wrong.
He turned the summons over in his mind for a moment longer before dismissing his musings. It was useless to ponder it. From his few encounters with the Sith and the numberless rumors that floated through the Imperial grapevine, the Dark Lord was rarely cryptic. He always made sure people knew what he wanted. Piett would simply have to wait and let Darth Vader explain it himself.
Two and three-quarters hours later found Captain Piett standing outside the durasteel door to Lord Vader’s quarters on board the Devastator. He had discarded his borrowed stormtrooper armour in a supply closet and now attempted to smooth out the wrinkles in his olive officer’s uniform. He was far too short for the armour, but at least that had left enough room to wear his uniform underneath it as he snuck aboard a transport between the two Star Destroyers. He would retrieve it on his way out, if he made it out…
Piett shoved the morbid thoughts out of his mind and gave one last tug to the hem of his tunic before raising his hand to the door chime. Before he could press it, however, the door swished open. He flinched at the unexpected movement and hesitated before stepping slowly through the doorway into Darth Vader’s quarters.
“You wanted to see me, my Lord?” Piett asked, flicking his gaze around the dark room, trying to locate his commander. The door closed behind him and this time he reined in his reaction, trying not to show weakness. But his nerves were frayed, the uncertainty of the situation wearing on them, and he twitched his head slightly to catch a glimpse of the door as it sealed.
“Captain Piett.” The deep baritone of Darth Vader’s voice came from the far left corner of the room, and Piett’s eyes finally picked out the dark form of the Sith Lord standing beside his desk moments before the lights slowly grew brighter. The room was still dimmer than was standard on the ship, but at least Piett could see clearly.
Lord Vader stood with his hands clasped behind his back, facing the Captain. Though Piett could not see the direction of his gaze thanks to the impenetrable mask, he could feel the Sith’s eyes on him, studying him. Piett held his body at attention, spine straight, hands behind his back, chin tilted slightly up, as he bore the weight of his commander’s assessing gaze.
The Dark Lord nodded once.
“At ease, Captain.” Piett relaxed his stance, bringing his hands out from behind his back, as Darth Vader approached him. He held his ground, despite the unease coiling in his belly.
“You cover your fear well. That is good.”
Piett started at the unexpected comment and blinked to clear the shock from his face.
“My Lord?” he questioned.
Darth Vader stopped in front of him, much closer than he would have liked. He had to tilt his head back to keep the Sith’s mask within sight.
Piett bit his tongue to keep himself from reacting to the insults, but they fled his mind when the Dark Lord began to circle him like a hungry nexu. His spine stiffened of its own accord, his body flooding with adrenaline as his instincts screamed at him to flee. Whatever he might have expected from this meeting, it was not this.
“But intelligent.” Darth Vader continued his assessment of the Captain. “No one would consider you a credible threat, but by the time they realized their mistake…” He left the sentence hanging as he completed his circuit and stood in front of Piett once more.
The sudden silence and stillness of the room stretched Piett’s already taut nerves. If he was going to die, he wished Darth Vader would just get it over with.
“Why am I here, my Lord?” His tone straddled the line between demanding and respectful. He knew he was walking the edge of a vibroblade, but he wanted answers.
Darth Vader whirled around, the edge of his cape snapping against Piett’s shins. He stalked over to his desk and picked up a datapad. He turned it on and held it up so Piett could see the screen. It was open to a detailed schematic of the Sith’s new flagship, the new Super Star Destroyer Executor.
“I noticed you failed to put in an application to serve aboard her.”
Piett’s heart stuttered and he caught his breath. No. Absolutely not. He was not going to put himself any closer to the unpredictable Sith Lord.
“With all due respect, my Lord, you have seen my transfer requests – ”
“And I denied every one of them. You are far too capable an officer to let go, Captain.”
Piett’s quick response died on his tongue. Was that… had Darth Vader just complimented him?
“M-my Lord?” His hands were sweating inside his gloves, clammy against the leather. It was uncomfortable and he resisted the urge to remove them.
“I have followed your career for quite some time. It was not a coincidence that you ended up in the Death Squadron. I allow only the best to serve under my personal command, and now I am looking for someone to captain my new flagship, someone who will eventually become my admiral.”
Piett frowned. “My Lord – ”
“You think less of Admiral Ozzel than even I do, Captain,” Darth Vader interrupted him. “He is a foolish man, and will not long stay in his position.” His voice through the vocoder sounded harsher than usual, though Piett wasn’t entirely convinced it wasn’t his imagination. “I am looking for someone I can… trust.” He paused before the last word, as though hesitant to say it, and his voice was quieter.
It took Piett a moment to grasp the implications of that. “What?” he asked, startled enough to drop the formality.
“I will make a deal with you, Captain,” Darth Vader said. He placed the datapad on his desk with deliberate slowness, the metal and plastic tapping sharply against the wood. “Agree to an interview now and you will be given full immunity for everything you say in this room tonight. I want the truth, not whatever you think I want to hear.” He placed his hands on his hips and Piett got the distinct impression that the Sith was glaring at him. He clenched his right hand into a fist at his side, the only outward sign of discomfort he allowed himself.
“And believe me when I say that I will know if you are lying.”
“Understood,” Piett replied, his voice quieter than he had intended.
Darth Vader stared at him for a moment longer before dropping his hands back to his sides.
Silence fell in the room and Piett took a deep breath, steeling himself for his next words. He kept his eyes fixed on his commander’s mask as he spoke, the words all but tumbling out of his mouth in an effort to get them over with.
“Lord Vader, I am honored by your apparent faith in me, but I have no desire – ”
Darth Vader held up a hand and Piett cut himself off, inhaling sharply. He was relieved to find that he still could. But the Sith’s hand was held straight, palm outward, not curled around an imaginary throat and the captain realized it was simply a gesture for silence.
“You hold yourself back out of fear, Captain. Allow me to finish stating my terms and perhaps I can ease some of them.”
Piett gave him a curt nod, his curiosity piqued despite the circumstances.
“You would not be here now if I did not already suspect that we share views on several things. If I am correct in my assumptions, you will be far too valuable to destroy. Proceed with the interview and if you decide at the end that you still do not want the job, or if I find that you are not what I am looking for, I will approve whatever transfer papers you draw up. But if you take the job, know that you will be far more secure in it than any of your predecessors. I will guarantee you the position of admiral in my fleet, although I cannot guarantee when that will happen.”
Piett stared at Darth Vader in astonishment. Attaining the rank of admiral, while something he had certainly daydreamed about when he was younger, more naïve, and not in Darth Vader’s Death Squadron, had not been on his bucket list for many years. Mainly because the time allotted to him to complete the rest of his bucket list would presumably be cut rather short. But to be handed the opportunity to be the admiral of the greatest fleet in the Imperial Navy, with an assurance of security –
“How secure?” he asked. More secure than his predecessors meant little, considering some of the mistakes that had gotten many of them killed. Of course, this was mostly scuttlebutt, but the rumors of Lord Vader executing his officers for their failures had to have some basis in truth.
“You need not fear death at my hands, unless you intentionally cross me,” Darth Vader said, living up to his reputation of being direct. “Now, do we have a deal?”
Piett knew he would be foolish to not at least accept the interview. This would be more than he could have hoped for, and without personal cost to himself. Whether or not he accepted the position if he passed the interview was still up in the air. Even with this unprecedented promise from Lord Vader, it could still be hazardous to his health. Being the admiral of Death Squadron had its own difficulties, and if the issues Darth Vader believed they saw eye to eye on were the ones he was suspecting… well. That raised a new set of problems.
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Good.” Darth Vader’s voice was a low growl of… was that satisfaction? His vocal tones through his vocoder had very subtle nuances, something that Piett had paid close attention to whenever he had had the misfortune of being anywhere near the Sith, or the few times he had seen him on a holonet broadcast. Even without intentions of serving any nearer to him than he had to, Piett had been cautious enough, considering his career’s trajectory, to make a study of Lord Vader’s moods. He was nowhere near having a comprehensive understanding of the man, but he had a decent start. Now it appeared that precaution was going to pay off.
Darth Vader gestured to a chair in front of his desk.
“Sit.” He moved next to his own chair behind the desk, but remained standing. Piett hesitated for the barest second before crossing the room to take the chair Lord Vader had indicated. Sitting down in the man’s presence felt odd. He was used to standing whenever Darth Vader entered a room.
Darth Vader did not waste any time, but immediately began questioning Piett on a variety of topics, ranging everywhere from military tactics and his responses to hypothetical combat scenarios to his opinions on the Navy’s cafeteria food. Piett failed to see the relevancy of many of the questions, but he forced himself to answer each as truthfully as possible.
The Sith paused his interrogation, because it certainly felt more like an interrogation than an interview, Piett had to admit, for a moment, allowing the silence after Piett’s response to a question about whether he believed the Death Squadron needed another Star Destroyer in its ranks to stretch longer than a minute. Darth Vader tapped a gloved finger lightly against the surface of his desk. The direction of his gaze was impossible to judge, considering the mask, but the tilt of his head implied that he was not looking at the captain.
Piett restrained himself from fidgeting in his chair. He swallowed. His throat was dry, and he wasn’t sure if it was from nerves or just from speaking so much.
Darth Vader straightened a little, though Piett had never noticed he had slouched any, wasn’t aware that he could, and his head turned so Piett could feel his eyes on him. He seemed to have made a decision.
“What,” he began, speaking slowly and much quieter than Piett had yet heard, “do you think of the Emperor?”
Piett’s heart stuttered to a stop. This was the reason for the offer of immunity, this was why this meeting was happening in secret. His hands were clammy inside his gloves again, and though he had never relaxed, all the tension that had leeched from his body since entering the room came roaring back.
“My Lord?” he said, his voice coming out in an unintended whisper. He couldn’t breathe.
“Immunity, Captain Piett,” Darth Vader reminded him. “We are not being recorded. Your words will never leave this room and you will never face reprisal for them. I simply want the truth.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Piett forced the words past a dry throat. “I, uh…” He coughed to clear his throat. His survival instincts were at war with his training to obey a superior officer. Either one could get him killed, despite Darth Vader’s promise of immunity. He would have to trust him, and trust was not something that came easily to Piett.
Piett took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He fixed his eyes on his commander’s mask and folded his hands together in his lap, grasping at the thin thread of calm his confident posture afforded him.
“I have a hard time believing that the Emperor has the Galaxy’s best interests in mind,” he said slowly, gaining confidence with each word as Lord Vader made no move to reprimand him. “I have very little respect for him and the way he governs and I sometimes wonder if the Empire wouldn’t benefit from different leadership.”
There. His treason was said, come what may. He clenched his hands together tighter, bracing himself for… what? The burn of a lightsaber through his heart or the ice of binders around his wrists? Neither happened, and Darth Vader continued to look at him for a long moment, perhaps reading his sincerity.
The Sith whirled around. Piett flinched at the sharp movement but he did not advance on the captain. Rather, he moved to stand in front of his viewport with his back to the room.
“And what do you think of me?”
This question did not inspire the same fear in Piett that the previous one had, perhaps because of the more favorable answer, but he thought it had more to do with the fact that while Darth Vader was terrifying, he was also direct and, from what he could tell, did not seem to care what people thought of him. The Emperor was a more nebulous threat, and while speaking ill of Darth Vader was frowned upon, you were unlikely to be reprimanded for it. But criticizing the Emperor was punishable by death.
“You are a brilliant commander,” Piett said, and meant it. He would never presume to bootlick Darth Vader, even if he wasn’t under an oath of honesty. “And I’m not alone when I say that I appreciate your willingness to lead from the front. I respect you as a military leader and while I think some of your methods are… harsh,” he flinched as he said it, watching Darth Vader turn just slightly back towards him, “I understand the frustration of having incompetent officers under your command.”
Though there are better ways to deal with it than killing them all, he added. But he did not dare to voice this last thought, immunity or no.
Piett’s hands were shaking. He twined his fingers together, digging the tips into the backs of his hands hard enough it hurt.
“If it came to it, would you support me against the Emperor?” Darth Vader asked.
Before he could think too much about the question and all it entailed, Piett answered, “Yes.”
“You mean that.” Darth Vader finally turned around again and looked at him. Piett wet his lips, meeting the invisible, heavy gaze of his commander. He nodded, fighting down a strange mixture of trepidation and relief.
“Yes, my Lord.”
Darth Vader considered him for a moment longer before speaking again, his voice a low growl. “Captain, you realize that what has been said here tonight constitutes treason?”
Piett gave a jerky nod, forcing air into tight lungs and hoping it wouldn’t be his last breath.
“You realize the consequence for both of us should word of this reach the wrong ears?”
He started at being included in the word us by Darth Vader. It appeared that though the Sith had said he was looking for someone to trust, he had already decided on someone. The weight of that responsibility settled on Piett’s shoulders and he drew in a long breath, trying to ease the tension that had crept into every fiber of his body.
What have I gotten myself into? he berated himself, even as he nodded in response to Darth Vader’s question.
Darth Vader walked back to his desk and picked up the datapad again. He tapped at the screen for a moment before handing it to Piett. The captain took it, keeping his hands steady only through an extreme force of will. His eyes skimmed over the document on the screen. It was an officer’s application for the Executor.
“If you want it, the position of admiral is open to you. Submit this application or file for a transfer by the end of the week so I know your decision. As per our agreement, I will approve whichever document crosses my desk.”
Piett stared at the slim piece of plastic in his hands. This was far more than a job offer. It was an admittance of thoughts of treason. It was proof of a lack of faith in the Emperor by his own right hand, a notion that shook Piett to the core.
“You will have my decision shortly, my Lord,” Piett managed. He stood, eyes still glued to the datapad’s screen. The black lines of Aurebesh blurred into incomprehensibility, screaming nothing but an offer to reshape the future.
“Remember, your immunity expires the moment you walk through that door. Speak of this meeting to no one, Captain Piett. I will need to take official action against you should your sentiments become public,” Darth Vader warned. “And I will not be lenient if you betray my confidence.”
“Understood,” Piett said.
“There is another shuttle returning to the Accuser in 20 standard minutes. You should be able to secure a spot on it if you hurry,” Darth Vader said, a clear dismissal. There was a flicker of a foreign emotion in his voice, one that Piett was hesitant to label as amusement but could see no other option.
He gave his commander a shallow bow. “Thank you, my Lord.” He left quickly, still feeling the Sith’s eyes on his back long after the door had shut between them.
And he was only halfway down the corridor before he began typing his name on the first line of the application.