The Empire in Me
Rated PG for language. A challenge response to the challenge to write a story from the point of view of a stormtrooper on board the Death Star at the time of destruction.
"This job is the shits," Ivan complained, pulling off his helmet and shaking out his blond hair. He ran his fingers through his hair, trying to get the worst of the helmet hair out. I always wondered why he even gave a damn. If we were in the public eye, then we were under matching armor—really, the armor was the shits, more than the job was. It was kind of like wearing a little prison. It hardly did the job and it seemed to me that it served a purpose more than some sort of mockery of protection.
It made us into single little clones of each other when we were on duty. It didn't matter who was underneath the mask until it was too late. Our armor stripped us of our identity. And here, even more than before, it didn't matter.
We were all the same here.
"It's not so bad," I said, sitting down and pulling off my boots. Twelve hour shifts were the shits, but we were getting paid and damn well for it. "It's like a tiny Imperial planet."
"Yeah," Ivan bitched, "like every single other planet."
"Well, once we're done with this, yeah." I gave a thin smile. "Who's going to oppose our Emperor now?"
"What? We need someone to kill," he said with a bit of a laugh, setting his helmet to the side. "Wouldn't it be boring if there were no rebels? We'd…"
"We'd probably end up shooting at old ladies who looked at the Emperor wrong."
"Well, maybe." Ivan considered this for a moment and then spread his hands. One hand still wore the armor. He was still partially the Emperor's. Partially the stormtrooper.
An identity gone.
I wondered which was speaking: the Empire or the man. I thought perhaps it was the man as he gave a hearty, but cruel chuckle. "I guess that wouldn't be so bad. At least they wouldn't fight back."
"And what then?" I said darkly.
"No, no." He slapped me on the back. I jerked forward slightly and one hand was at my holster before I even registered the conscious thought. We'd been trained, and trained well]. "This is why we need the rebels. We wouldn't want to be gunning down old ladies on the street."
Maybe it was the Empire talking. Maybe it was the man. I watched him get up and finish undoing the straps of his armor, setting aside all of the white pieces that made up the Empire on his skin, the Empire that encased him, the Empire that spoke for him because Kessel forbid we ever thought to think a thought of our own. We didn't need to be gunning down old ladies on the streets for that.
Kessel, we already were.
"You're right," I finally agreed, standing up and peeling off the rest of my armor. "We need the Empire."
"Good man," he said. "Let's go down to the third floor and get something to eat."
"Sure." I threw my helmet onto my bunk and slipped into a dull green shirt. As Imperial as ever before, I followed Ivan out of the room.
It really was like a small planet, I reflected, following my more confident bunkmate down the hall. When we'd been drafted for the Death Star final stages, I'd been under the impression it was a battle station. A battle station! This was no battle station. It was the very heart of the Empire and everything we were fighting for. Everything the war had stood for had cumulated in this: a planet that was made out of the best of the Empire and the worst of the Empire. They said the super laser could destroy an entire planet if the Emperor willed it.
Everyone on here knew the only reason it was being built was terror. But while the construction lasted, we were going to enjoy it. There were parks. Kriffing parks. Parks on board a weapon of terror, something meant to crush the last remains of the rebellion from the galaxy for fear of death greater than they could bear. Parks, and cantinas, shopping centers… if I wanted to go play a round of Sabacc or Cripple Mr. Onion on my hours off, I could. If I wanted to see the latest holo flicks, I could. If I wanted to laze around underneath a stimulated sun, I could.
For all the hours spent patrolling the prisons, and floating in space to put up the last vestiges of an Empire of fear, I could equally spend my hours doing nothing and ignore the fact that on this battle station I called home, countless prisoners of the Empire were simply made to disappear and wage the war of terror on a galaxy soon to know true fear.
Here I was in the heart of the Empire and the Empire was in me.
Maybe I could leave. I knew we'd be revealing this weapon of fear soon. I'd signed up for the contract and I'd spent my years here. It was enough. I could return to the streets of Coruscant and go back to terrorizing aliens for back talking or something. Maybe find a small planet and settle down while protecting the peace of the galaxy.
"I'm sick of this place," Ivan said, grumbling. "Really, I am."
"I know," I said sympathetically. We had to keep it quiet, but it didn't matter. Half of the recruits for the project were sick of the Death Star with its cheesy name and its sunless days and moonless nights and near radio silence except for what the Empire let in.
"I want to see stars again. Mountains again!"
"Watch a holo?"
He gave me a look that could only be summarized as a look. "That's not what I mean and you know it."
Didn't I know it. I longed to see the ocean at my feet and smell the salt water on the air.
"I heard," he said amicably, "that they're going to test the Death Star soon."
"Huh," I wondered. "On what?"
The news spread like wildfire through the station, and came to my ears as I hovered over something alcoholic… drunk enough that I wasn't sure what they were telling me, drunk enough that I wasn't sure what the blue fizzy drink in front of me was, but not so drunk that it didn't register.
"Yeah!" Ivan whooped. "Pussy pacifist planet anyway!" He threw a dart at the holoboard and it stuck, quivering—only I could see the trace it left. An empty trace, an empty space, an empty hole where a planet would've been. So that was the noise, I thought, the strange noise as I'd downed something blue and fizzy.
Something blue, and a world gone.
"Yeah!" the trooper said, voice muffled through his helmet—sounded just like all of us when we were on duty. "Princess pissed the Grand Moff off bad."
"And that's just that?" I murmured through the drink, sinking slowly forward. I floundered, trying to grab hold of something for balance. My fingers slowly wrapped around the counter. That was that. Just a planet, insignificant compared to the power of the Empire. And even I was floored, I thought, staring at the floor and the underside of the spinning stools.
"Man," Ivan slurred, "you are wasted. Might want to get back to the bunk."
I would have agreed but I was too busy throwing up.
Ivan hauled me back. For all his bitching, he was a good friend and he was there when I needed someone to haul me back to my bunk. He had my back, that man, and I told him as much through the haze of something blue and fizzy, through the haze of Alderaan—through the haze of the knowledge that the galaxy would never be the same again. Sure as sure was sure, the Empire knew what they were made of. We were made of. Something.
I collapsed onto the thin cardboard mattress—if they'd have found a way to project us bedding, they would have, but as it was the Empire wasn't wasting their valuable funds giving us decent bedding. I kicked the helmet off of the bed, hanging onto the ladder to keep myself from falling out of bed.
"Man, you need to sleep." Ivan climbed up the bunk to his half, knocking the climate control up to warm.
"There was an old holo where a ship sank on some planet with some water and there was a scene in the movie where the water was coming in," I slurred, "and the people were just there and lying in bed as the water came up and into their rooms and it got them and the ship sank."
"Fine. Then don't sleep."
"Ever wonder if we're going down?"
Ivan laughed his scoffing laugh. "Down? We're just getting started! We killed Alderaan, Davot!"
"Yeah," I mumbled. "We killed Alderaan."
And I knew that for as long as the Empire was in me, I would be held responsible, even though I was drunk in the kriffing cantina when it'd happened. I turned out the light and made it night in our artificial planet.
It was, what, six hours later that the alarm went? I wasn't paying much attention to the pounding in my head. I was fairly certain at some point I had used my helmet as a receptacle for vomit; I hadn't been looking at the clock and there was no sun to indicate when it was night and when it was day. Something like that. Six hours. Twelve hours. Something.
Ivan was up before I was; armor half on before I'd even shoved my helmet on my head. (And cleaned it out, of course. We could waste water like there was never going to be a shortage. After all, we could just steal it from some water planet.) He laughed; laugh mechanical; laugh like everyone else's laugh now that he was underneath that armor. "You look ridiculous."
I took the helmet off. "I know. But we're still off duty. I don't want to armor up."
"Yeah. But duty calls regardless. Come on, Dav."
I put the helmet down and followed him out. It was probably an overflowed toilet or some poodoo like that. Maybe a prison break. But where would they go?
When we got to the nearest station, we found out it wasn't.
Something about the rebel base. Something about escaped prisoners. Something about—oh, Force, a lot had happened, but I had a hangover and I could barely process it. All available troops were needed if things would go wrong but of course nothing was going to go wrong, the Rebellion's little attempt with their tiny ships to bring down our space station wasn't going to matter. What would it do? We were invincible. I could take two Advil and see them when I could walk straight. Things like that.
They told us there was nothing to worry about.
Ivan wanted to see action, though. He hadn't seen action since the last prisoner break-out, when he'd been working down in the prison sector. "I'll kill a rebel for you!" he promised.
I took an Advil and went back to my room.
How insignificant the rebels were next to the power of the Empire, I thought. Within minutes they would be destroyed. If only my headache could be destroyed that easily.
I sat down in bed, swallowed the pills with some water, and lay back down to listen to the silence of the battlestation.
It seemed louder than normal.
Maybe I would leave. If we were on the verge of ending the Rebellion, I didn't want to be involved in the furtherance of the Death Star's reign of terror. I wanted to see stars and I wanted to see the sky again and I definitely wanted to smell the salt sweet air of the ocean. The rebels were insignificant next to the power of the Empire. We had nothing to worry about.
I was just about to drift off to sleep when something grew louder and louder. The fire raged for but a glimmer. And then I was insignificant against the power of the Force.