Welcome Aboard

Young Ensign Piett tugged at the collar of his uniform jacket agitatedly. He had to fight with himself not to fidget too much, to not shift from one foot to the other, but he had the distinct feeling that everyone around him already knew that he was nervous. Who wouldn't be? It wasn't like this was a normal assignment. This was an assignment aboard the Executor. This was an assignment under Lord Vader.

Glancing to the left and then to the right without moving his head, the twenty-two-year-old wondered if he would ever see these same men again. The troops that had come for him from off of the Executor were exactly what Piett had imagined them to be: Blunt, hard, and impatient with unnecessary wasting of…anything. These men had all served under the Sith Lord Darth Vader, and the young ensign wondered how long it had taken them all to adjust to the Supreme Commander's methods. If the rumors about the Dark Lord were to be believed, Piett knew that he most likely wouldn't see most of these men again…nor they him.

When the shuttle finally landed, Piett wasn't sure if he was more relieved or anxious. He was glad to be out of the deathly silent craft, unable to vent his nervousness, yet to be on board the most well-known ship in the fleet…it was not a comfort. As he walked down the landing ramp, the spacious bay with its high, high ceiling and it's never ending runways began closing in on him. Suddenly, this ship wasn't big enough. It was merely an iron tomb.

Who he assumed to be his superior was in front of Piett before he could ask any of the escorts about what he was supposed to do. The man before him was middle aged with graying hair at the sides and a grim expression. The blue eyes were hard and cold as he looked the younger man up and down. Firmus snapped to attention with a clipped, "Sir!" but even so, the commander did not appear impressed. At all.

"What is your name, Ensign?" the commander bark.

"Sir, Ensign Firmus Piett, Sir!"

Once more the commander looked the new recruit up and down, a disgusted sneer on his face, before he turned his back to the ensign, shocking Firmus. "Lieutenant," the commander summoned. "Take this…boy to his quarters. Have him prepared for duty within the hour."

Next to the commander, a lieutenant saluted smartly. "Very good, Sir!"

The moment the higher officers were out, the lieutenant finally lowered his arm and ceased his saluting. Piett did the same. Apparently everyone was very strict on protocol here, the chain of command rigidly kept. Not surprising, seeing as Lord Vader's looming presence hung over everyone. The complete militancy of the ship made perfect sense.

"Follow," the lieutenant snapped Firmus from his musings, but ever obedient, he did as he was told and followed the higher ranking officer.

The Executor was a massive ship, and Piett could not completely keep up with where they were going or what halls they were taking. The walk there was not only long and complicated, but completely silent. He did not dare speak, almost afraid that if he opened his mouth, the Sith Lord would appear and strike him down. But more realistically, he was afraid that the lieutenant would send for the Sith should Piett say or do anything wrong.

Everyone he passed was the model military officers and crewmen. Not a hair out of place, not a boot unpolished. Firmus might have been more impressed if it hadn't creeped him out a bit. He loved order as much as the next man, but the utter perfection he was seeing frightened him. What if he couldn't match?

At last the lieutenant stopped outside a door. "Here," he indicated, punching in the door combination. Firmus wanted to ask if he would get a copy of the code so he could memorize it, but he was too afraid to ask. Instead, he focused on the numbers he saw being pushed and tried his best to remember the sequence.

The door swooshed open to a small room filled with two sets of bunk beds. Tentatively, he stepped inside, wondering idly who his roommates would be and what they would be like, before he heard an impatient huff from behind him. He wasn't sure which beds were occupied and which weren't. They were all crisply made and there were no signs of personal belongings that he could see. Knowing that his commanding officer was getting impatient, however, Firmus carefully set down his pack in the corner of the room. He snuck a glance up to look for disapproval from the lieutenant, but found none. Believing that he hadn't done anything wrong, he straightened back up and waited to see if he would be told anything else about the room or the accommodations.

He was not, Instead, the lieutenant turned around sharply with a quick, "This way," before he turned the corner and was gone. Surprised, Firmus quickly exited the room and chased after his guide. Apparently no one believed in getting settled in first here.

Once more, it was a silent walk through the confusing maze of halls, before they finally stopped at what Firmus assumed was the control room. It was just as large and open as the other he used to work in while onboard the Punisher, yet the Executor seemed so much bigger and more intimidating somehow. He supposed it was because there was a Sith Lord lurking about somewhere.

The lieutenant came to stop in front of who Piett assumed was the captain, and the moment his feet stopped moving, his hand went up to salute. He dared not speak, however, and hoped the captain would not be offended. It was as though he could not make a sound in the virtually silent space.

"Sir, this is Ensign Piett coming to serve as a replacement," the lieutenant saluted the captain. Firmus stayed perfectly still as he felt judgmental eyes upon him.

"Ensign Piett," the captain barked. "You will be filling in for Ensign Rutherford at scanning."

Firmus didn't answer for a minute, but at the glare he received from both the captain and the lieutenant, he swallowed down the fear he felt. "Yes, Sir!"

The captain sneered. "I'm not sure what sort of loosely run frigate you came off of, but here things are not so slack. You will speak when spoken to. You are new and I will forgive the mistake this once, but don't let it happen again," he growled. "To your station, Ensign!"

"Yes, Sir!" Piett said, before quickly turning to find his station. For a horrifying moment, he was lost, not quite use to the layout of the new ship, but his eyes managed to scan the entire control bridge in a second flat before he found the scanners location. With a straight back and aiming for steady, even steps, he swiftly went to his post, hoping he wouldn't get in trouble for the moment's hesitation.

When he sat down in the only empty seat, he was about to pick up his headphones when he realized another ensign was staring at him, before looking away. "Better re-read your manual tonight," the other offered in a whisper as he continued to work. He didn't say anything else and never looked at Piett again.

After twelve hours of space travel and then working for another eight, by the time his shift was over, Firmus was exhausted. He felt extremely tense, like he was going to snap. He had worked straight through all eight hours without so much as looking at the time, and was actually startled when someone tapped him on the shoulder, indicating the shift change. He blinked up at the other ensign stupidly for a moment before nodding and standing. The moment he was on his feet, he was pushed out of the way, as his replacement sat and put on his headset.

And just like that, Firmus found himself inanely standing in the way, his mind too tired and surprised to know what he was supposed to do now.

When he caught sight of a commander, though, he quickly exited the scanning pit and began walking towards the hall he thought he'd come from. He shivered, feeling suddenly very cold, and he realized how stiff and terrible he actually felt now that he wasn't so worried about doing his job. He felt oddly fearful, even though he'd managed to work his first shift without any mistakes. He walked over to the ships administration desk, trying to keep his back straight and his gate even, while stifling a yawn. That would not look good at all, he mused. How sad would it be for it to be reported home that he was killed because of a yawn?

When he approached the desk, a stern looking woman sat on the other side, her dark hair twisted in a bun. When she glanced up at Firmus, she looked away to continue her work, completely disinterested. "Can I help you?" she asked, her voice holding contempt.

"Yes, Ma'am," he nodded slightly. "I was just assigned here today…or rather yesterday." She gave him a harsh look. "I mean, I just got on board about eight hours ago and only had a moment to put my belongings in my room, but…but I'm afraid I don't remember the room number or the pass code," he admitted, feeling horribly embarrassed and stupid, especially when the woman kept giving him contemptuous glances when she bothered to look at him at all. "I'm Ensign Firmus Piett. Perhaps you could look it up for me, please?"

The disgust on her face told Firmus that she did not want to look it up for him. In fact, she looked as though she wanted nothing more than for him to leave. He waited in silence for several minutes, nervous that she was indeed not going to help him and would, in fact, ignore him, when she finally turned and wrote down something on a small pad before handing it to him.

He took it without question and realized she had written down the room number and room code. The relief he felt was immense. "Thank you," he said sincerely. She ignored him. "And…um, I hate to bother you again, Ma'am, but how do I…get there…"

This time, she did ignore him after one incredulous look that clearly said, 'Are you kidding me?' before she turned back to her work.

He was on his own, he realized. No one was going to help him here. He was suddenly afraid of loitering, and decided that maybe he could just wander around and ask one of the crewmen which way his room was. Plan set, he walked from the bridge and out into the hall, making sure that he was not in anyone's way so he wouldn't get into any trouble. The chill followed him.

He had walked about ten minutes before he felt safe. All around him, the ship was bustling. He knew he had to get back to his room fast to get some rest. The rude woman had also programmed his assignments schedule on the pad for him as well, and it indicated that he was to have another shift in ten hours. That would be just enough time to get a full eight hours of sleep, get ready, and perhaps find a bite to eat before he had to work again.

The first person that happened past him was a clone trooper. Piett had never really talked to a clone before, always silent when they were around, but they were human, he supposed, and he imagined it couldn't hurt to try. "Excuse me?"

The clone stopped immediately, turning his helmeted head towards Piett. The blank, black eyes of the mask freaked him out a bit. "Could you tell me in which direction room…FMR-783 is?"

The clone continued to stare at him for a long moment, and just when Piett was starting to get uncomfortable, a gruff, deep voice of a troopers answered. "You're new here, aren't you?"

Relieved that it had not sounded completely unfriendly, and he at least had the trooper's attention unlike the woman, Firmus nodded. "Yes, I arrived a little over eight hours ago and then was immediately put on duty. I haven't had time to study the map of the ship thoroughly and I'm afraid I'm rather tired."

The troop stared again for a moment, but raised his hand. "You'll want to go down that hall, take a left, keep walking for about two kilometers, turn right, and you'll be in the FMR hall."

"Two kilometers?" Piett couldn't help the dismay that entered his voice. Such a distance!

But the trooper didn't respond to the exclamation. "Study your maps, Sir," he advised before walking away. "Welcome aboard."

Feeling incredibly discouraged, Piett reworked the directions he was given in his head before he turned and started walking. Maybe he wouldn't get to have that full eight hours of sleep if he still wanted time to eat. He'd have to figure out if there was some sort of transport for the ship or if he was just going to have to learn to walk fast. He rubbed his arms, trying to chase the cold away before he started walking.

He trekked on until he had to go one direction or another and took a left. He wrote down the directions on the pad he was given just in case. As he went along, he noticed the other crewmen and officers all rushing about. No one was just walking, he noticed, they all set a brisk pace and raced around. Even the droids seemed to move faster than those on the Punisher. So as not to stand out, he tried to match everyone's rushed strides, but he was so tired and unused to walking at such speeds, he was afraid he was sticking out.

Walking the full two kilometers proved to be horrible. Firmus desperately wanted to drag his feet, but he refused to do so. The hall was uncommonly cold, and he found that sometimes he would drift off and he would startle himself awake as he walked. He trudged on until finally, when he guessed he had gone the full length of two kilometers, he turned right and to his relief, found that the doors read "FMR" and then the numbers. Blessedly, the doors from this end didn't begin with the number one, instead 900. His room was less than two hundred doors down.

Smiling, he shook his head, trying to wake himself up more, and with renewed vigor, strode to his room and to bed. He had to be on shift again in about nine hours, so he would get about seven hours of sleep before a quick shower and then a bite to eat before he would have to rush to work. All in all, he thought he could get all the necessities done within an hour…just so long as the mess hall wasn't 100 kilometers away! This could work. Now that he knew how far work was from his room he could plan better next time. Perhaps his stay on the Executor wouldn't be too bad after all. He was only assigned here as a temporary replacement for a few weeks. He could survive this.

When he stood beside his door, he took out the pad he had been given and entered the code. He wanted to just fall into the room and sleep for as long as he could, but something stopped him. Instead, Firmus found himself grow inexplicitly cold, and a shudder ran over him. Slowly, he turned his head, and paled instantly at the sight that greeted him.

There, suddenly before him in all of his black armored glory, was Darth Vader himself. An unnatural hiss erupted from the dark, emotionless mask, and Piett wondered how he had not heard it before. The giant of a man—if man he truly was— stared down at him with pitiless eyes, and even though he could not see the eyes beneath the mask—if there even were eyes— somehow Firmus felt them burn into him.

"Ensign Piett," a synthesized bass sound rumbled out of the Supreme Commander.

Fear gripped the young ensign's heart. What had he done? Had he done something wrong? He had tried to not bring attention to himself all day, and yet he had managed to catch Lord Vader's notice, apparently all day, since Firmus realized that the chill he had been feeling emanated from the black clad creature before him.

He was going to die. There was no other way about it. Somewhere along the way he had done something wrong, and he was going to get punished for it. If he was going to go, however, something in Firmus wanted to fight, wanted to rebel. If he was going to die, he would not die like a coward, he would not allow Lord Vader to think less of him than he already did.

Squaring his shoulders, snapping a salute, the young man looked straight ahead of him, the perfect military pose. His knees threatened to buckle, but he locked them. His body wanted to shake, but he refused, stiffening his muscles. It would make him look tense, but all posturing of this sort did, it was expected in the navy. And having remembered his lesson earlier that day, Firmus worked to keep the quivering from his voice as he answered with a "My lord, yes, my lord!"

It seemed like an eternity as the Sith Lord merely stood over him, staring, but Piett knew that it had probably only been a few seconds. At last, just when the hissing of the breath became too much, Vader answered in an astonishingly smug tone. "Welcome aboard the Executor, Ensign."

Firmus could have cried in disbelieving relief. But he was smarter than that. He had watched the news feeds of Lord Vader, he had paid attention to the rumors, and struggled to keep his face blank, lest Vader take offense. "Thank you, my lord!"

The Sith sized him up once again, and this time, knowing that he was not going to die a gruesome and horrible death, waited as patiently as possible. "Do not disappoint me, Ensign," Vader rumbled, before turning quickly and stalking away down the hall, not even waiting for an answer.

But not knowing what was actually expected of him, Piett remained frozen in place and called out, "I will not, my lord!" even if Vader didn't hear him. He did not want to offend. And so he waited another moment or so before he relaxed before rushing into his room to find his roommates all in bed. Of course all the bottom bunks were taken, and so throwing off his uniform, throwing it over a chair that appeared unclaimed, he stripped down to his boxers before climbing up into bed and almost instantly falling asleep. He was too tired and drained from the day's activities to care about anything else.

This was not the last encounter Firmus Piett had with the Dark Lord of the Sith, but it was one of the strangest. He ended up being stationed on the Executor for a month before a fulltime replacement was found and he was returned to his regular duties onboard the Punisher. But returning back to the other ship was not as joyful as he would have expected it. After serving under Lord Vader, Captain Tuille's running of the ship seemed…sloppy. Inefficient compared to the Executor. In a strange sort of way, Firmus longed to go back, to once again have the efficiency he had unexpectedly come to adore.

And he also found himself feeling sorry that he could no longer "Vader watch" as he'd taken to calling it to himself. The Dark Lord was everything and yet nothing like Firmus would have suspected. He was ruthless and yet not completely indifferent, harsh yet not totally unfair. Vader expected things to get done and to be done well. No excuses. As long as everyone simply did their jobs to the best of their abilities, there were no problems and the Sith generally left everyone in peace.

In fact, the Sith often didn't interact with anyone at all, unless it was business related. Lord Vader kept to himself, did not speak unless he had something to say, and never frequented the mess hall or the officers' lounge. Vader left everyone alone in their off time, and apparently expected the same courtesy. It seemed a rather lonely existence for the Sith Lord, one of isolation and melancholy.

Yes, quite unexpectedly, Piett missed serving under the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Navy, and he missed watching the Sith. He would now never get to figure out if there was more to Darth Vader than what met the eye, or confirm his belief that there was something truly…noble in him.

Author's Note: …I'm bored. I have no idea what this really is supposed to be. Weird character study? I don't know.

Head cannon: Vader, despite being a Sith Lord, still has that annoying little blip of 'good' in him, the thing Luke sees in his father. That blip actually manifests itself in the form of Vader treating his people not as badly as others would believe. The Vader in the original trilogy, believe it or not, always struck me as a fair, but heavy-handed commander. The reason he killed people were for reasons. They lost the trail of the rebels? Dead. They made grievous mistakes that could cost the Empire? Dead. And you'll notice that Vader only ever killed the head of command. He didn't take it out on the lower officers because, ultimately, it was the head officer's decisions, commands. Everyone else simply followed those orders. He understood and seemed to accept that.

Also, I like to imagine Vader 'greeting' everyone aboard his ship, inspecting them and judging them quietly. ^^

Reviews are welcomed! And similar stories such as this may come in the future if people are interested. :)