He hadn’t expected luxury seating, and the unpleasant stainless-steel bench had no plans to disappoint him. Frustratingly typical: as usual, everything the Empire constructed on this planet was designed with stormtroopers in mind, and they rarely even visited. We’re on a forest moon, the scout trooper thought-glared at a curious maintenance droid down the hallway. I spend at least an hour after every shift cleaning sap out of very uncomfortable places, so how do we always manage to get saddled with the thinner, lighter armor? The droid stammered through an apology and quickly skittered out of sight, wondering what offense it had committed.
The electricity flickered, a staccato crackle with curved, ocean-blue tips. It appeared to be exhausted. “I hear you, pal,” the soldier mumbled. He stared at his boots, remembering a world before all of this, when the blood and broken bones and the missing places in the mess hall had meant something.
“Sir?” A disembodied voice, digitally embossed, chirped at the trooper’s shoulder. Could be transmitted from anywhere. “He’s ready for you now. Conference Chamber CJX1.”
“Thanks,” TAU522 replied to the empty air. A femur popped as he rose, the tension temporarily diffused but certain to return later. At least the scheduler who squeezed this meeting in had some sense—limping to Chamber CJX1 wouldn’t take more than a minute. It often felt like a person couldn’t attain any significant rank within The Tempest Force if they didn’t insist on holding meetings clear across the base for no apparent reason. He gingerly raised a glove to the conference chamber door, hesitating.
“522? Whatever you’re daydreaming about, do it on your own time,” Drazin barked through the glass, gesturing to an empty chair like he was accusing it of insulting his family. “I’m getting old over here.”
“Of course, sir.” TAU522 punched the access button and stepped aside, trying to project the confidence and enthusiasm expected of him. It was so draining, the sheer weight of the lie they were forced to uphold, even with most of the base complicit. Wasn’t sharing a burden among friends supposed to help? His eyes swept the corners of the room, searching for the tiny surveillance devices that rarely left his mind these days.
“Relax, TAU,” Drazin said. His voice held too much grit and dirt to actually soften, but it pulled off a decent impression. “Comms are disabled—for the next fifteen minutes or so, anyway. They’re watching, but they can’t hear us. I’m sorry about Lunar K1B. And THX-47. Did you see—”
TAU’s helmet bore down, taunting his skin. The temptation to tear the damn thing off whispered even louder. They were dead; he should have known. “We were separated, sir. Rebels caught us completely unprepared. So Lunar and T…they didn’t make it back, then?”
“Neither’s reported in yet.” The corporal’s thick fingers tapped the tabletop aggressively. “In fact, your entire company is missing. Their speeders are completely offline. I suspect that the bikes likely slammed into something incredibly dangerous at full speed. I put the mathematics droids to work calibrating the data from their final transmissions.” Drazin sounded optimistic, but TAU’s faith in optimism wasn’t particularly devout. The math droids were obnoxiously capable, but retrieving anything after a spectacular crash was always a high-stakes game. As with many of the 74-Z models the Empire acquired, the Tempest Force’s bikes had been stripped down to maximize speed—at the expense of safety.
“ALL the speeders are destroyed?” A ragged note in TAU522’s breathing now. “Was it Skywalker? Solo?”
“Possibly. Or a gigantic tree. We did receive a partial report from Crond, but it only mentions one prisoner, and that can’t be the kid. Vader—” Drazin’s throat flapped shut, the worry lines on his brow flexing for a moment. “Vader has plans for Skywalker, so Crond would’ve followed procedure. That leaves Solo, the Wookie, or the princess.”
“It was Organa. I noticed her lurking in the bushes and snuck up behind her. Crond approached us on foot; I’d ordered him to grab his speeder and transport her to base. But something struck my legs and she knocked me unconscious with a tree branch. Sir, I think she might be working with the locals.”
Neither solider moved. Drazin’s finger-drumming faltered slightly, then stopped. I wish that just this once, I could read his face.
“Thank the stars” the stormtrooper corporal said quietly. “Between the Tempest Force here and Vader’s armada out there? The Rebellion’ll need every advantage they can steal. The golden butler speaks Ewok, doesn’t he?”
“Threepio’s a protocol droid, sir. Odds are excellent that he does.”
“If we somehow survive all this, TAU, I’m going to personally ensure that droid never has to buy another beer.”
“I’m reasonably certain droids can’t consume alcohol, sir.”
“I shot him, you know.” Drazin muttered, perhaps more to himself than to his companion. “Back on Cloud City. He’d wandered into one of the repair bays looking for the astromech; my unit was waiting on the signal from Calrissian.” He paused. TAU522 imagined a wistful gaze forming under the corporal’s helmet. “Broke my heart to blast him, but if he’d had warned Solo and Organa about the trap, no one would’ve escaped Vader’s vengeance.”
“It was the smart call, sir.”
“And one I was rewarded for.” The word sounded like it was being spat through sewage. “I’d been Gamma Squad, TAU. We’re only having this conversation now because Vader promoted me for my ‘diligence,’ for gunning down a hero.” Drazin’s fingers began to resuscitate, a series of light taps dancing with erratic escalation. “But repulsive as accepting that offer was, it landed me here. If the Rebels and Ewoks have formed an alliance, they’ll be attacking this base within days. Ackbar needs the deflector shield destroyed if he’s gonna have a prayer of sinking the Death Star. Our job is give him more time.” He glanced at his wrist module, then stuck his hand out for the junior officer to shake. “And speaking of, we’d best wrap up. Radio silence is on the cusp of breaking, and we can’t trust the droids.”
TAU522 did not stir, gave no indication he’d heard Drazin at all. “Soldier, I said—”
“Sir—” the scout trooper interrupted. His mask was aimed directly above Drazin’s helmet, not quite looking at him. “You knew, didn’t you? Everything you said about the speeder data needing to be retrieved, not being sure what happened…that wasn’t true. You sent my company out there to shoot Skywalker and Organa down, but not to use lethal force.”
Drazin’s shoulders slouched a bit, but the accompanying grunt told TAU he was somewhat impressed. “They had orders, yes. Lunar K1B aimed for Organa’s bike after he’d directed her into one of the Ewok hunting areas we’ve been able to confirm. Risky, of course, but so’s this whole goddamn thing.”
“But they all died except for me. Organa could’ve easily killed me if she’d wanted to. Did the rest of the team—”
“Yes. And they accepted it. We’re at war, soldier. You remember what they did to us.”
The memories itched in TAU522’s frontal lobe; gently at first, but swirling louder. All those years he’d lost after Sidious activated Order 66. His personality wiped clean, his thoughts rewritten—or so he believed. The friends he’d murdered. He tasted the sweet relief again, thanking the stars for whichever Kaminoan had gone rogue and modified the biochips, causing the clones’ original memories to be stored, not erased, to fail entirely after fifteen years.
And for once, luck graced them—the Empire had no idea.
“You’re thinking of the scientist,” Drazin said. TAU522 nodded. “We’ll never know their name. But they saved us, TAU. They were only one cog in a wheel too large to control—they couldn’t prevent the chips from being installed into our brains. But they did what they could for the cause, soldier. And,” he added, pointing towards the main gate, possibly already imagining the heroes he’d pretend to fight again shortly, “so must we.”
“Sir.” TAU522 drew himself up, marched out of the room briskly. Drazin watched him depart until his shadow disappeared. A pernicious beep screeched from his wrist. Another meeting, undoubtedly where they’d pretend to discuss defeating the “Rebel scum,” all of them aware that when the attack arrived, they’d be concentrating with all their might to miss.
“Stay safe, my friends,” the clone whispered. “May the Force be with you all.”
This story was the result of me asking myself “Stormtroopers are famous for almost never hitting anything, but we always assume that’s due to lack of skill. What if, for some reason, they’re intentionally missing?”
In canon, Drazin is the stormtrooper who shot Threepio in Cloud City, and by a bite-sized bar of luck (for me), he later gets assigned to Endor as part of the Tempest Force guarding the deflector shield. So I decided that maybe he, this unassuming officer, is predicting / taking advantage of events in a way that none of our main characters realize.
Want to see everything I’ve created in the same place? Because you can do that!