A/N: This story idea came to me while re-reading Heir to the Empire, particularly the scene where Crewmen Pieterson dies. I often wondered what the crewmen around Pieterson thought of the incident, and how their days went both before and after... and thusly this plot bunny was born. Please read and review. I love hearing ideas and constructive criticism on where I need to improve to make the story great.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Star Wars and its characters are owned by people with more money than I can ever imagine. Please don't sue. This is purely for fun.
It was 0530 and I was nowhere near where I needed to be.
"This is so not good," I muttered to myself, weaving my way around the throngs of officers just coming off the night shift, hoping against all hope that there was still space in the turbolift for me. It was my first day on board the Chimaera as an official crewman - not just a trainee - and it was my luck that I'd overslept. Ensign Colclazure was going to have a field day with me.
Technically my shifted started at 0530, and given the way the turbolifts moved around here, I could be at my post before the chronometer read 0531. But procedure required all crewmen to be at their post two minutes – minimum – before the shift change. Just in case there were additional orders or such things that needed to be addressed before night shift rotated to day. That, and it ensured a smooth transition so that no station was ever left unmanned for any period of time.
Two minutes. I was two minutes late already, and my day wasn't looking any brighter.
Of course the lift corridor was crowded down near the barracks, the outpouring of tired personnel turning a normally quiet section of the ship into a riot of comments and laughter. It was not permitted to joke while on duty, and side conversations not dealing with the assigned task at hand could earn a person something worse than a reprimand. That made shift change one of the most vibrant and active times… save for the middle of an actual battle, that is.
I tried not to frown as I slid into the lift, barely settling my uniform cap in place. I though the hat was a little silly, but it was part of the uniform. And lowly little crewmen like me hadn't the authority to actually have an opinion on things like military dress. Come to think of it, we didn't have the authority to have an opinion on anything really. Still, the hat had its uses. Like hiding the fact that my hair was a lot longer than standard protocol allowed. (Don't ask how I managed to pull that one off. It took more favors and bribes to the commissary officer than I wanted to admit.) I'd been forced to give up a lot when I was conscripted from my home world. My hair wasn't one of those things I was willing to part with. Call it a last great act of defiance.
The lift doors parted, and I had about half a second to compose myself. I was just a crewman, I told myself in an effort to calm my nerves. No one aside from my officer cared a wit to notice me. This was my first real experience on the bridge, and in a few seconds I would be seated at one of the starboard tractor beam control stations. Which was nothing to be nervous about, right? Right?
The looming thundercloud that was Ensign Colclazure managed to shatter that little illusion for me. Oh, there was plenty to be nervous about. Especially the way he took his time to glance ever-so-casually at his wrist chronometer and then back at me. It wasn't a friendly glance in the slightest.
Two little minutes late. Two!
And Ensign Colclazure looked ready to chew deck plating.
Mentally I braced myself for the reprimand, moving to stand to the right of my assigned post so that my counterpart could exit to the left in good old standard procedure. Crewman Forde, the before mentioned counterpart, gave me one of those looks that was half annoyance and half pity. I'd kept him a whole two minutes longer than he was assigned, but he was still kind enough to recognize a fellow crewman that was about to get a dressing down when he saw one.
For reasons I couldn't really explain, I gave him a little wink. I couldn't help myself. I'd never sat down and had a conversation with Crewman Forde before, but I could tell by the look of him that he was probably in the Imperial Navy with hopes of a command of his own one day. My wink was most likely the last thing he had thought to see from me. Maybe that was why I did it. Maybe some part of me thought he was attractive. And maybe, just maybe, it was because I was scared.
Yeah, okay, it was definitely because I was scared. I'd freely admit that. I'd heard the horror stories about the Empire's leadership in the past – the stories about Lord Vader in particular – and being assigned to the flag ship of Grand Admiral Thrawn had done nothing to lessen the fear of those stories. Granted, there weren't any rumors about him flying off the handle and killing crewmen for no reason (or for being two stinking tiny minutes late!). But that wasn't any reason to believe he was a softy. Hell, it was a reason to believe he was worse. Nothing scarier than a man that did everything with deliberate and precise reasoning.
Crewman Forde exited the seat and I caught the back as it swiveled in my direction. Before I could sit down and log in, Ensign Colclazure's hand gripped my upper arm hard enough to leave a bruise and turned me to face him. To say I went pale was like saying the stars only marginally burned bright. Yet some of the harshness left his face at my reaction. Probably because I looked like I was going to pass out right there at his feet. I certainly felt like I was. He was still upset with me, but at least he was no longer ready to eat my face.
"I expect my subordinates to follow protocol to the letter, Miss Idelas," he said quietly, releasing my arm and folding his hands behind his back. "Given this is your first official day on duty, I'm going to allow your disregard for timely arrivals and presenting yourself to your officer to slide without a formal reprimand. Provided that this type of behavior does not occur again. Is that clear?"
I had to swallow twice before I had enough moisture in my mouth to make sounds other than croaks. "Y-yes, sir," I managed, trying to stand at full attention. "It won't happen again. I have no excuse to offer."
He pursed his lips, his gaze feeling like it was boring into my skull. "At least you learned that much," he replied coldly. "I do not tolerate excuses."
This was real, I kept telling myself. No more mistakes. No more expecting constructive criticism as I worked my way through the complicated training package for my station. I was in Imperial service now, really and truly in service. My failures would be judged with equal measures of reality. Suddenly I regretted my stupid little 'act of defiance' in keeping my stupid shoulder length black hair. Like it was anything special to begin with! My hair would grow back if they cut it. My life wouldn't grow back if my superior officer decided to cut that off instead.
Yeah, I was scared. Terrified.
He held my gaze for another couple of seconds before nodding. "Take your station, Crewman Idelas." It was clearly a dismissal.
"Yes, sir," I sat down before my legs gave out beneath me. The whole confrontation couldn't have taken more than a couple of minutes, and yet I felt like I'd just run for miles. And still, I couldn't keep my mouth shut. "Uh, sir?"
Ensign Colclazure turned around with one of those perfect military turns that I had yet to master. "Yes, crewman?"
I took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "Sir, may I request extra lessons when you have the time? In Imperial procedures and protocol, I mean to say. I… feel like my behavior reflects poorly on myself and this team. I want to correct that as soon as possible."
Something passed through his eyes at that, something that could have been... approval? Amusement? Did the corner of his mouth twitch in an almost smile at my request? Was I that rattled by this whole incident that I was hallucinating this entire thing?
"Granted," he replied, his eyes loosing that… whatever it was I thought I saw… and turning hard with command once again. "Log into your station and tend to your duties."
My reply of 'yes sir' might have been little more than a squeak. I turned and did as he requested, trying to loose myself in the flow of data that came my way and in shoveling other bits of data to the other crewers that needed it. Two whole minutes late, I couldn't help but reflect. Two whole minutes that had changed my entire perspective on Imperial service and my place within it. I was willing to bet it would take me about two minutes to run to the commissary and have them hack off my hair after shift, too.
And as if the universe and the number two were mocking me, about two minutes after Ensign Colclazure had walked away, I felt as if I was being watched. Cautiously I glanced up between my eyelashes, daring to take my attention from my station to look up at the command walkway. Glowing red eyes were staring down at me, a glint in them that was simultaneously unreadable and yet left me feeling as if I had just been measured on some galactic scale.
Again, it was only for about two minutes before Grand Admiral Thrawn continued down the command walkway. Leaving me wondering if I had just measured up to his standards or had been found wanting…