The Emperor's Finest

Member fiction submitted by CM scottrick on 2023-09-28.

Description/Remarks: This was submitted for the Raise the Flag 2023, Fiction Competition part one.

The Emperor's Finest

Jaret fumbled with the door mechanism, frustrated. The thirty-nine impatient troopers standing nearby, ready and waiting to disembark the dirty shuttle, may have had something to do with that. It didn't help that he had forgotten the passcode, either.

"Sixty-three-seventy," said a gruff voice from behind. Zuric stood six feet tall (and nearly as wide in his combat gear) and his breath stank of brandy.

"Forty-one-forty was on the Botaryn."

"Right," Jaret replied.

Jaret shook his head as he punched in the numbers. He was annoyed with Zuric but more annoyed with himself for forgetting the code. After he finished entering the digits, he slammed his fist into the console and watched the door's internal mechanism spring into action. A piercing high-pitched whir began to echo throughout the launch bay, followed by a deep metallic rumble. Slowly, each individual gear and knob started to turn.

"Thanks," said Jaret, gesturing to Zuric with a gloved hand.


Jaret examined the other soldier's outfit. A tight fitting dark gray uniform swelled around the man's chest, it's threads straining to contain his mass. Zuric's visor was flipped open, exposing a hard face, and it was difficult to determine where his neck ended and his face began. Not an inch of the man could be described as soft. He was solid like the trunk of a Gemwood tree. Thick. And from Jaret's experience over the past several years, probably quite drunk.

"Next time," Jaret started, having to shout above the noise of the machine, "if you share some of that swill you've been sipping instead of hiding it, maybe I won't fumble with the keypad so much."

Zuric grinned in response, his eyes watching the door as it worked. There was nothing to do but wait.

As the machinery continued its elaborate unlocking procedure, Jaret wondered how the door worked. Was it really necessary to have so many moving parts, just for a simple lock? He stepped away from the device as its levers jarred up and then down again with no discernible rhythm, and the interlocking teeth that made up a dozen different gears groaned under the stress of grinding together.

After what seemed to be several minutes, a billowing cloud of dust erupted from the steel casing containing the door. The noise, having reached its climax, began to fade. Jaret was left with the sound of a mechanical whir and a dull ringing in his ears.

It was only now, as the contraption went silent, that Zuric's mischievous smile left his face.

"Who say's I'm hiding it?"

Zuric made a show of looking about, the gesture insufficient in determining if there were any eavesdroppers yet capable of lending himself a smug credibility, before flashing Jaret a glance at an obscured portion of his belt. Upon inspection, Jaret could see a nondescript mesh sack. It was handsewn, attached to the standard Imperial Trooper belt they all were wearing and blended naturally into the black and gray colors of his uniform. Peeking from out of the fabric was a dark green full-sized bottle, stoppered with a cork.

Jaret whistled in response.

"Is that a bottle of the Emperor's Finest?"

"Sure is," said Zuric.

"Is it authentic?"

"Sure is."

He pulled the bottle from its home at his waist and held it up high so they could both examine it in the shuttle's dim light. The green glass sparkled incandescently as Zuric turned it around.

"This," he said, pausing to let the refracted green light dance on his face, "this is the good stuff."

Jaret squinted to get a better look. He had only seen the Finest before in the Imperial Magazines that were sometimes circulated amongst the crew. While he may not have seen one in person before today, he considered himself well informed and knew quite a bit about the process and effort that went into creating the brandy, along with the different types of grapes and variety of ingredients used.

Jaret felt his mouth become dry and his mind raced with questions. After a moment, he tried to continue, casual.

"Do you know, was this bottle from a cask the Emperor himself oversaw? Or was it from a later batch, by one of the Moffs?"

"The former," Zuric said. "Actually, it's from the final batch Palpatine oversaw. The barrels were in orbit of Endor when he inspected them, and shipped out only days before the Rebels struck."

Jaret fumbled with his blaster, trying to get a better look at the bottle.

"Ah, yeah I read about that," he said, still not believing completely. "Supposedly the comparison isn't even close."

Zuric spat on the ground in disgust.

"Those later casks were distilled by a Moff who could hardly tell a good brandy from Quarren bathwater, let along the Emperor's Finest."

Jaret nodded. He had heard a similar story several times from other troopers and did not doubt the validity of it. Hearing it again from Zuric confirmed his belief. One thing still puzzled him though: How had a work horse like Zuric been able to scrounge up enough credits to afford a bottle such as this?

So he asked.

A sly smile spread across Zuric's face as he leaned in close.

"You gotta keep this close to your chest, trooper."

Jaret nodded quickly and painted a concerned expression on his face, anxious to hear Zuric's reply.

"Do you remember Alagar? From basic? The doofus who couldn't stop smiling and was built like a Bantha?"

Jaret nodded slowly, summoning a vague image of Alagar into his mind.

"You mean Al?" Jaret asked, after a moment of recollection. "Wasn't he the blonde bastard who got himself kicked out of training?"

"Yes, but his hair was dyed," Zuric clarified.

Jaret frowned, not following.

"He died?"

"No," he said, shaking his head. "He dyed his hair. He wasn't naturally blonde."

Zuric waved a meaty hand through the air, dismissing the line of conversation.

"Anyhow, Alagar didn't get kicked out. He was selected."

Jaret was still confused.


Jaret remembered Alagar being strong and smart - an excellent trainee. But beyond that, he was loyal to a fault. Loyal to his fellow men at arms, loyal to the Empire, and loyal to the Emperor himself.

"Yes. He was selected for something special," Zuric said, his face animated as he threw his arms wide. "The entire ordeal - the implicating note, his disappearance, the dishonorable discharge - was all fake. A hoax."

Jaret was stunned. The man's departure had been an uproar and his behavior reprehensible. It was almost unheard of for someone who had been given the honor of serving in the Emperor's Navy to betray that honor.

"I know it's hard to believe," Zuric continued. "But a few years after his discharge, I ran into him while on shore leave. He was getting ready to depart and was all decked out in top grade military gear. Time was short, but he remembered me from the academy. Said he always felt bad about deceiving everyone, but that he had been selected for the Emperor's personal guard."

Jaret was awestruck.

"You know," Zuric explained, "the ones who always dress up in red and followed Palpatine around wherever he went."

"He told me that he's gonna send me something, someday. Not anything huge, but something I can enjoy while reminiscing about our time in training. Then he said goodbye and left."

Zuric leans in closer to Jaret, intending to bring his voice down even lower.

"So I wait and wait, half not expecting anything but half curious about what it would be. I almost forget about it entirely."

"Then last week, like a torpedo shot from an X-Wing, I received a small crate delivered by the Imperial Fleet Post Office. And inside, nestled in a bed of straw, was this bottle and a three word note."

Zuric absently patted down his pockets and eventually retrieved a small folded piece of parchment. He handed it to Jaret, who opened it reverently and read:

For the Empire.

Jaret tried to hide the tears forming in his eyes as he felt an uncontrollable swelling in his chest. He forced himself to take a deep breath.

He felt pride for a nearly forgotten friend, who had not been lost after all. Pride in knowing that even with the Emperor's fall, a little piece of his legacy had survived here, in this brandy. Pride in the knowledge that the Rebels, with all their gall and sanctimonious sermons, could never take this experience away from him. It was his, here and now. And tonight back in the barracks, he and Zuric would share a drink, remember old times, and toast fallen friends who could not be here today.

Finally, the doors of the shuttle began to drag themselves apart and Jaret snapped himself into focus. Dust blew in from outside and a deep orange light from the system's star cast long shadows behind him.

The Force knows where Plif has sent us this time, he thought, as he stepped through the threshold and into the unknown. Jaret didn't know what he would find, but he knew he had a purpose.

For the Empire!