Imperial Stormtroopers entered the room in two columns, their formation was perfect and their movements identical. Boots against the deck made the steady rhythm of a marching army. It was only the service line for lunch, but the troopers acted as if they were about to face inspection by the Emperor himself.
Meal trays were handed out, and the leading ranks of the columns turned away to find seating in the massive chamber of the mess hall. Gray metal tables and benches filled the room, and although they were currently empty, it wouldn't take long for the hungry troops to quickly occupy them all.
One of the troopers sat down at the table, pausing a moment to remove his helmet and set it beside his tray of food. He was joined by five other soldiers who mimicked his action by removing their helmets. Each of the Stormtroopers looked the same with dark hair and a firm expression. None of them had a beard or moustache. Table after table, Stormtroopers sat down to eat their meals, but it was clear a few divisions remained in the otherwise uniform forces of the Empire.
An incident had occurred on Kamino some time ago with a large detachment of clone troopers being manufactured to fight against the Empire. After the battle was over and the planet secured, the Emperor had decreed the clones filling the ranks of the Imperial military should be drawn from a variety of genetic materials to prevent the corruption or disloyalty of one from spreading through the entire military of like-minded individuals.
The new clones looked different from the originals, but having been trained with dissimilar types, they were used to it while the older clones were not. As a result, the veteran troopers sat together, isolated nearest the door in a group one third the size of the room while the other two thirds of the mess hall were filled with a diverse mix of the new clones.
Conversations were often whispered on the invisible borders between the two assemblies as neither side was too comfortable with the other. Further away, it was another story entirely, and conversations were held openly.
"I wonder if any of them have seen even a tenth of the combat we went through?" one of the original troopers muttered.
"It's the reason there aren't more of them," another quipped. "They didn't make it through training."
Humorless laughter filled three tables, drawing the attention of the new clones, but it was immediately quelled when they noticed they were being observed.
The majority of the troopers kept their focus on their meals, an unappetizing puddle of bluish-green sludge the consistency of pudding. It lacked any actual taste, but it had been manufactured for delivering the right amount of nutrients to keep the troops in good condition for fighting.
Tension in the room was thick, and what few conversations existed were entirely for the purpose of distraction from the ominous feeling permeating the ship. Word had reached the Star Destroyer yesterday of a major battle with the Rebels. Command was keeping a tight lid on the information, but it only fueled rumors they'd lost the fight for the Empire would not have kept silent about a victory.
Ever since the Imperial forces had swept away the old Republic and established their iron grip on the galaxy, the Empire had seemed invincible, able to stand for all time. Recent years had put the lie to those beliefs. The first Death Star had been destroyed, and the Rebels had escaped certain doom on Hoth. If the battle at Endor had gone badly for the Empire, it didn't bode well for their future.
A somber thought in the mind of every Stormtrooper was what would become of them if the Empire fell. It seemed unlikely the Rebellion would welcome them in since the soldiers had played such a major role in both the downfall of the Republic and the fight against the Rebels. Wandering the galaxy looking for ways to survive seemed a terrible price to pay for all their years of obedient service.
Every conversation ended as the doors to the mess hall opened and admitted the Captain. Soldiers jumped to attention for the grey uniformed leader of the Star Destroyer on which they served.
"At ease," the Captain said with a hand raised. "I'm here to inform you of what's been going on, although you may have already heard some of it. The Empire has suffered a massive defeat at Endor. The Death Star is destroyed, the Emperor and Darth Vader are dead, and the Executor and many other Star Destroyers have been lost."
It seemed a void opened in the room, swallowing the hopes of every soldier present.
"All is not lost," the Captain promised. "Although the Rebels have dealt us a serious blow, we still have numerous worlds and a strong fleet. More importantly, we have someone capable of leading us to victory."
The troopers expectantly waited as the Captain stepped aside. The mess hall doors opened once again and admitted a tall man in the black boots and pure white uniform of a Grand Admiral's rank. The Admiral's blue skin and black hair seemed even darker in contrast to the brightness of the uniform, and his glowing red eyes studied the soldiers in the room with menacing intelligence.
"I am Grand Admiral Thrawn," he announced. Thrawn's voice was calm and measured, yet it clearly told everyone in the room who held the reins of power. "By the authority of my rank, I am taking command of this vessel and all remnants of the Empire. All ships must be made ready for battle at once. The Rebels believe us beaten entirely and have started setting up a New Republic. They are already bickering over power and authority, and without the Imperial Army to maintain order, they will be very busy and unprepared for our counteroffensive. We are not defeated, and this war is only getting started."
The morale of the Stormtroopers soared. The Empire wasn't finished yet, and the troopers still had a purpose. Not only would the Empire continue to fight, but under the Admiral's command, they would come back from the defeat at Endor stronger than ever. They were going to win.