Darth Vader has no patience for posturing. He has no interest in baseless threats to Imperial rule. And he certainly has no fascination with training exercises.
In an excerpt from the short story “Orientation” by John Jackson Miller — part of the new Star Wars Insider Fiction Collection compilation featuring Legends tales and modern lore — with art by Brian Rood, we find the Dark Lord of the Sith aboard the Imperial cruiser Defiance, where Commandant Pell Baylo is trying his best to impress the new leaders of the Empire with varying degrees of success. Ultimately, Vader’s attentions lie with a young cadet whose anger is palpable…
“Battle stations! Hostiles off the starboard bow!”
In the command well of the Imperial cruiser Defiance, 20 members of the skeleton crew hastily turned to their terminals, ready to defend against attack. Every mind was attuned to the situation — save the one belonging to the figure looming dark and large above them on the catwalk. Darth Vader looked on with utter disinterest.
There was nothing in this “battle” to engage the Dark Lord’s attention. It wasn’t real. There was no one to challenge the Empire. He and his Master Darth Sidious, who now ruled the galaxy as the Emperor, had brought the Clone Wars to a conclusion not long before; and while the two were on their way to Ryloth now to root out insurgency, the “hostiles” outside were pure fiction, part of a training exercise.
“Hard about, my cretins,” shouted Commandant Baylo, passing Vader as he stalked along the catwalk. “While I’ve been waiting for your picnic to end, you’ve lost your forward shields!” He clapped his hands on the railing and leaned over to bellow. “We have an observer today. Are you trying to make me look bad?”
Vader thought he already did. Well past 70 and with a nose too long for his face, Pell Baylo walked with an exaggerated limp that caused the stumpy man to bob up and down like a flying thing. He nonetheless commanded the attention of the cadets in the pits on either side of the catwalk, all of whom were now scrambling to correct their errors.
Vader thought his own presence here was a mistake, too. But Sidious had brought him to Defiance’s bridge and left him. It was his duty to remain, even if he saw no other reason for being there.
Crossing the vast swath of cosmos between Coruscant and Ryloth, Darth Sidious had ordered a stop in the Denon system so he could consult with several chiefs of the navy, visiting there to discuss how the jumble of affiliated military schools that had existed under the Republic might be better integrated into the Imperial Academy. His livelihood under review, Baylo had suggested a timesaving solution: the meeting could take place aboard Defiance, the cruiser he’d operated as a flight training school for nearly 50 years. The commandant could show his students in action while they conveyed his Imperial Highness on one leg of his trip.
The Emperor had praised Baylo for his suggestion. Vader saw through the offer. A futile effort to save his school. The Clone Wars had brought the Defiance Flight Training Institute — known to most spacers as “the Baylo School” — directly under the umbrella of the Republic Navy, with Baylo receiving a rank as a line officer. Yet the commandant treated the institute as his personal property, ignoring schedules and asserting he knew best when recruits were ready for service. Even now, with the Empire in charge, naval leaders were loath to rein Baylo in; he’d trained many of them aboard Defiance, after all. Vader expected that resistance would wilt, now that the Emperor was on the scene.
Baylo was just another fossil, married to archaic practices.
But his Master had spent half a minute on the bridge before departing for his meetings with the naval chiefs who were Baylo’s superiors — leaving Vader behind to observe Baylo’s silly pantomime show. Vader had objected, as strenuously as he dared: “I would serve you better elsewhere, Master.” The Emperor had not been amused. “I decide where you are needed. You will remain and be my eyes.”
That was hours ago, and Vader hadn’t seen anything worth his attention. Baylo had run his cadets through their paces, dressing down one after another and spewing aphorisms. The first mock attack concluded, he unleashed another one.
“– it’s all about attitude, in more ways than one,” Baylo was saying to someone, mid-rant. “Think about your direction, your facing. Don’t you know where you’re going, cadet? Because if you don’t, your ship certainly won’t…”
The trainees — humans in their early twenties, some on their first orientation flights — seemed almost happy to absorb the platitudes and abuse. Vader knew Baylo had a mythic status in naval circles, and not just for his exploits. Defiance had fought pirates when it was in patrol service, yes — but Baylo’s spine had been injured, and now his daily battle was with near-constant pain. Twice since he had been aboard, Vader had heard cadets whispering of Baylo’s bravery in working despite the agony.
Ridiculous. Baylo knew nothing of pain.
A voice came from behind. “Shuttle arriving from Denon, Commandant. Vice Admiral Tallatz aboard.”
Baylo stood back from the railing.
“That’ll be the last of Palpatine’s — of the Emperor’s guests for his meeting.” He checked the time. “Navigator, plot our hyperspace route to –”
“I already have it, sir,” called out a female voice from the pit.
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Forcing one atrophied foot in front of the other, Baylo fought his way down the steps into the command well. A woman with deep brown skin, dressed in sharp cadet grays, slid her chair from her terminal, allowing the old man to approach. She wore the trace of a knowing smile as Baylo read the monitor.
“I’m impressed, cadet,” he said. “You’ll go far — and so will this ship. Or did you not intend to plot a course into Wild Space?”
The cadet’s grin vanished. The young woman looked past him at her calculations, suddenly puzzled. “It is a course to Christophsis, sir, where the Perilous will meet us.”
“You’ve failed to account for a singularity along our route which will reshape our hyperspace passage in a most startling way. We now know who our next admiral will be,” he added with a snort. The young woman stepped away in humiliation as Baylo began to work the console. After a moment’s effort, he stepped back. “There. Small repair, major difference.” He looked around and about. “Details matter, everyone. A navy isn’t built on captains — but on crews that watch their work.”
“Aye, Commandant,” came the response from the cadets.
Aware of Vader’s gaze, Baylo looked up at the Dark Lord. “They don’t learn right away, but they do learn. I get results. You can tell your Emperor that.”
“He is your Emperor, as well.” They were the first words Vader had spoken before the trainees, and several shifted in their seats on hearing his powerful voice.
But if Baylo was shaken, he didn’t show it. “I’m sorry. I forget — what are you to the Emperor, again?”
“You would do well never to learn.”
That time, Vader got a reaction. Baylo straightened — a strenuous feat for him — and he slapped the back of the chair of the woman he had corrected. “Well, I can still teach my people a few things. Extra courier detail for you, Sloane, once you’re done here. You can think about navigation while you’re finding your way around ship.”
“Aye, Commandant.” The cadet returned to her station and stared blankly at the screen before her, trying to understand her mistake.
Baylo hobbled back toward the staircase. “You have the settings. Take us to hyperspace as soon as the admiral’s docking is complete. I need to prepare in case they need me.” He struggled up the steps and made his way past Vader. “Carry on, cadets.”
Vader watched the aged commandant exit — and then thought about the exchange. The man Vader had been would have bristled at such treatment. His Jedi teachers all thought they knew better than he did. And they were so smug, always pretending they knew some secret about the universe he was unworthy to learn. It was all a lie, a false front to hide their weaknesses. Darth Sidious, now the Emperor, had the secrets, not them. It had been a delight to prove them all wrong. But Sidious was now in that same role as teacher, and he was doing many of the same things: acting as though he knew better, and doling out information only as he chose. Vader had traded all the masters on the Jedi council for one. A better one, he knew: the secrets of power Sidious shared were real. And yet, as different as their master-apprentice relationship was, he had served Sidious long enough to get that familiar feeling. The Emperor had something else to do — and he had given Vader busy work.
No. That concept fundamentally clashed with something Vader had long known about himself. Every job I do is important — because I am the one doing it.
His cape trailing behind him, Vader descended the stairs into the command well. There, at the end, sat the chastened cadet from earlier.
“Tallatz has debarked,” called out her neighbor. “His shuttle’s clear.”
Sloane looked at the numbers before her again and sighed. “Commandant’s coordinates locked in the navicomputer. Stand by for hyperspace jump on my mark.”
Vader’s voice startled her, and she turned her chair. Brown eyes widened as she looked up at him. “Yes, my lord?”
“What do you see?”
“You fear to contradict your master.”
She shuffled in her seat. “My lord, I don’t wish to say the admiral is wrong about –”
“No. That is exactly what you wish to do.” The woman had hidden her emotions from her companions, but could not fool Vader. He had felt her anger at being embarrassed — and it had bubbled up since, finally breaking through his own preoccupied thoughts. “Speak, cadet –?”
“Sloane.” She swallowed hard. “Rae Sloane, of Ganthel.” She gestured to the panel behind her. “I’ve studied our orientation and done the math, with the computer and without. Something isn’t right…”
Read the rest of “Orientation” and other stories in the Star Wars Insider Fiction Collection Volume 1 available starting May the 4th, and subscribe to Star Wars Insider now for more of the latest news, in-depth articles, and exclusive interviews in every issue!
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