Instruments of Destruction

Author’s Note: This is largely a story about project management. Adherence to canon not guaranteed.

Admiral Tian Jerjerrod stood in the bay with his uniform crisp and clean, a state it hadn’t been in for quite some time. He’d lately taken to sleeping in his office in those moments when he had the time to sleep. Yet for this visit, there were matters of appearance to consider. He could feel his stomach bubbling with acid and suppressed a shudder as he saw the ship open with a hiss of cycled air. Darth Vader stepped forward, his custom suit making hisses of its own. Jerjerrod kept from wincing. “Lord Vader, this is an unexpected pleasure. We’re honored by your presence.”

“You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander,” said Vader. “I’m here to put you back on schedule.”

Jerjerrod turned ashen. It had been known for months that their schedule had slipped, or was simply in a continuous process of slipping, but he had hoped to make up for that before he was pressed on the matter. His reports to the Emperor were carefully worded so as to emphasize the progress they had made in their construction efforts instead of mentioning when things would be done. He had long since stopped including project timelines. “I assure you, Lord Vader, my men are working as fast as they can.”

“Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them,” replied Vader in his mechanical voice.

“I tell you, this station will be operational as planned,” said Jerjerrod, which was true, even if it left out the question of when.

“The Emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation,” said Vader.

“But he asks the impossible,” said Jerjerrod. The truth was that the Emperor had asked the impossible from the beginning, back when the very first plans had been drafted, before a single girder had been delivered into orbit around Endor. “I need more men.”

“Then perhaps you can tell him when he arrives,” replied Vader.

“The Emperor’s coming here?” asked Jerjerrod. He was aghast.

“That is correct, Commander. And he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.”

“We shall double our efforts.” Jerjerrod could feel himself shaking. He could hear the tremor in his voice. Yet he seemed incapable of correcting those in front of Lord Vader. It was all he could do to keep from collapsing.

“I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.” With that, the malevolent hand of the Emperor turned and walked back to his ship, not so much as pausing to look at the stormtroopers and officers that had been pulled away from their work in order to maintain appearances.

Jejerrod went back to his office, stopping briefly in the bathroom to vomit up his breakfast. It was times like this that he thought about where it had all gone wrong.

He inevitably ended up back with the draft document that had brought the second Death Star project into being some thirteen days after the destruction of the first Death Star. Jerjerrod had only learned the date later on. When he’d heard that they were building a second Death Star, he had naively assumed that this was a rational, considered decision on the part of the Emperor and the Imperial Navy. He still remembered the day he’d unearthed that first draft from the bowels of the computer system and made the connection with the Battle of Yavin. Thirteen days wasn’t even enough time to write up the proper documentation necessary to commission a comprehensive feasibility study, let alone actually carry out such a study. Someone – almost certainly the Emperor – had simply decided that there would be a second Death Star to replace the first. “Make it bigger!” the Emperor must have said. “Fix the defenses so the tragedy at Yavin cannot possibly happen again!” Jerjerrod could imagine him saying that to a committee of men from the Imperial Navy and them nodding happily along and saying that they would make it happen.

The cowards hadn’t even signed their names to the design document.

Building spaceships was difficult, labor-intensive work. The Executor -class Super Star Destroyers took ten months of dedicated shipyard time to build. They were nineteen kilometers long and each was capable of deciding a battle almost single-handedly. These were unimaginably expensive and could only really be justified as a show of overwhelming force, especially when the only contender for intergalactic dominance was the Rebel Alliance, which had little in the way of firepower. In truth, the credits and manpower would have been better spent on smaller fleets, though few in the Imperial Navy would admit it.

The first Death Star was six and a half times as wide as a Super Star Destroyer was long. Had it only been a Super Star Destroyer scaled up by a factor of six and a half, the square-cube law meant that it would have been two hundred and fifty times the tonnage. Yet it was worse than that, because the Star Destroyers had a shape like a flat triangle and the Death Star was a sphere. With the materials needed to build the Death Star, the Imperial Navy could have built four thousand Super Star Destroyers. There were savings in terms of labor, certainly, given the heavy reuse of design elements, but it was still a behemoth of a project. The Death Star had taken three years to design and twenty years to build. If it hadn’t been blown to pieces within a week of becoming fully operational, it would have become a legendary tale among project managers, the sort of thing that was discussed in reverent whispers.

The second Death Star was to have two and a half times the tonnage of the first. The schedule expected completion in four years.

Oh, certainly building a second one of something was cheaper and faster than building the first, most of the time. Admiral Jerjerrod could almost understand how the original schedule (the fantasy schedule) had been made. If you looked at the first Death Star project and then thought about the second Death Star, you might think to yourself, “Well, the technical challenges have been solved, the requisite supply lines have already been constructed, and there were a wealth of people trained in the design of the requisite systems. We’re increasing the scope of the project by two and a half times, but that doesn’t actually increase the number of man hours by a proportional amount, and without all of the hurdles to overcome, we can simply follow the trail we already blazed in a fifth the time with some room to spare.” Jerjerrod could understand how someone would think that, because when he’d been brought in to lead the project six months in, he had thought the same. Certainly the schedule was ambitious but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t doable. It was three months later that he’d had his first breakdown and spent two straight days ignoring his meetings so he could get to the bottom of the pile of problems.

First, it simply wasn’t true that the technical challenges had been solved. The plans for the first Death Star had not been static from the time construction was started, they had evolved as it was constructed and these technical challenges were overcome. In a perfect world, the plans for the first Death Star would have been fully complete once the project itself was completed. Unfortunately, perfect documentation was a poor assumption. There were places where the recorded solutions did not line up with their implementations, where someone had done a quick patch and forgotten to write it down, or where the descriptions left in the official specification were completely unhelpful. The Death Star had been built over the course of twenty years, with a heavy amount of turnover and no small amount of slave labor. The information contained in the documents that were its lasting legacy were incomplete.

That wasn’t even the whole of it though; that only covered those technical challenges that anyone would have run into when trying to build a second Death Star to the exact specifications of the first. The second Death Star project was not trying to recreate the original, it was trying to both increase the scope and improve on the design of the original. The first Death Star had been 120km wide; the second was planned for 160km wide. This meant a 33% increase in width. Yet it wasn’t so simple as scaling up everything by a factor of 1.3, which was obvious even to someone without a background in engineering. Even a simpleton could see that having all the rooms and hallways increase by that factor would leave them pointlessly cavernous. But to an engineer, the square-cube law made the new technical challenges immediately apparent. Increasing width by 33% meant increasing surface area by 77% and increasing volume by 137%. Those changes meant that nearly every subsystem within the second Death Star would have to be different from that used in the first Death Star. The similarities between the two projects were largely on the surface. On top of that, the first Death Star had blown up, which meant that the design had not been perfect (to put it lightly), so even if the size hadn’t changed there would have been new technical challenges to overcome. As it was, the project consisted of almost nothing but new technical challenges.

Second, it was completely wrong to think that the supply lines built for the first Death Star could be reused. The original Death Star had been built over the course of twenty years . Factories had been constructed, produced immense volumes of materials, and then been shuttered in that time. Worse, the supply truly was a chain , or even a tree . A turbolaser battery (of which the Death Star was to have 15,000) was put together by a single factory, but that factory was fed materials by two other factories, which were in turn fed by multiple others. When construction on the first Death Star had ended, the reduction in demand had led to many of those factories in the chain to be repurposed or to at least scale back. And the supply chain for the turbolaser batteries was one of the best case scenarios , one where there was at least some interoperability with starships and ground defenses. There were always people wanting turbolaser batteries, if not in such great quantity as the Death Star required, so the supply chain had been decimated but not ruined entirely.

The kyber crystals that had powered the Death Star’s superlaser were the worst case scenario when it came to supply chain legacy. The crystals were rare, found only on a handful of scattered planets. The first Death Star had taken all of the low-hanging fruit, which hadn’t even been hanging particularly low. Not only was there not a supply line to reuse, this was one of a few cases where the construction of the first Death Star had actually made the construction of the second Death Star more difficult. The original plans had assumed that finding kyber crystals to power the superlaser would take a fifth of the time, an assumption that was absolutely ludicrous.

Third, while the construction of the first Death Star had involved a wealth of training which accounted for a fair amount of its construction time, leading to a healthy amount of institutional knowledge, the coordinators for the first Death Star (led by Tarkin) had done the sensible thing and put many of the experts to work on the battle station once it was completed. If a man spent fifteen years of his life leading the team that constructed a specific cooling subsystem, it was only reasonable to hire him on for maintenance, especially if this only meant a lateral shift within the Imperial Navy and a small amount of paperwork. Who better to repair that cooling subsystem if something went wrong than the man who had spent a significant fraction of his working career putting it (and others like it) together? Who would know the ins and outs of the subsystem better than the man who had run hundreds of tests on each individual component and solved many of the technical issues? The first Death Star had, by and large, been crewed by the people who had put their effort into building the battle station.

So when the first Death Star had been destroyed, a vast amount of intellectual capital and institutional knowledge had been destroyed with it. Of course, the original schedule for the second Death Star had been put together only thirteen days after the destruction of the first, so no one had time to get a full list of the missing and dead. Crossing out names from the original Death Star’s org chart would have taken the better part of a week, if Jerjerrod had cared to do it. The idea that there were trained personnel ready to replicate feats they’d already accomplished would have been laughable if it hadn’t been so macabre.

So the technical challenges had been assumed to be solved, when they actually weren’t, the supply lines were assumed to be extant, when they were in shambles, and the hard work of training was assumed to be completed, when a large number of those involved had been killed. With all that, doing a project twice the size in a fifth the time would have been nearly impossible if it were peacetime.

Yet it was not peacetime. Sabotage from within and attack from without were both perennial problems that had plagued the construction of the first Death Star. While the Death Star itself had been a close (and mostly successful) secret, the supply chains and personnel movements had been so extensive that there was no disguising them. If the rebels knew that the Empire was making use of factories, they knew that the factory was a juicy target, even if compartmentalization meant that the rebels had no idea that a superweapon was being built. After the destruction of the first Death Star, the rebels had rallied, making more frequent attacks. Sabotage was a different issue, mostly as a result of the slave labor used in the construction. Slaves sometimes seemed like more trouble than they were worth.

Jerjerrod had been shielded from many of these problems when he’d first joined the project. He had taken the assurances of his subordinate officers and the engineers under him as trustworthy. No one had informed him of the shaky assumptions the timetable had been built on. He had thought that the construction of the second Death Star was ambitious , but ambition had been part and parcel of the Imperial Navy for a long time. He hadn’t seen the first crack until he’d been a week into the job, when he was going on a tour of the third octant.

“Why is this docking bay inaccessible?” he’d ask Ganth, one of the engineers that was accompanying him.

“Ah,” he’d said. “Well, sir, it’s currently under vacuum.”

Jerjerrod had frowned. “Why? This section of the Death Star was meant to have been fully pressurized since last month.”

“You might have been reading an older version of the project plan,” said Ganth. He gave a nervous swallow. “Pressurization was originally supposed to be part of the second phase of construction, but the air filtration systems weren’t finished in time, so it was moved to phase three instead.”

Jerjerrod had narrowed his eyes. The bulk of the third octant was supposed to be finished first so that there would be a livable base for the workers and construction crews. “Why were the air filtration systems not finished on time?” he asked.

“There was a problem with power draw,” said Ganth. “The construction efforts on the filtration systems were slowed down by it. Putting more stress on a halfway completed system was deemed to be dangerous and counterproductive.”

“Meaning the filtration system is currently in place but working at diminished capacity?” asked Jerjerrod.

“Yes sir,” replied Ganth. He swallowed again. “If this docking bay were pressurized, the filtration systems would be taxed too heavily and there’s a possibility that life support in this sector of the Death Star would begin to fail.”

“And what was the problem with power draw?” asked Jerjerrod, already fearing the answer.

“The first hypermatter reactor has been performing below specifications,” answered Ganth. He followed that quickly with, “You’ll have to speak with Officer Swell about that, it’s been ongoing.”

“Ongoing for how long?” asked Jerjerrod.

“Since the hypermatter reactor first went online, sir,” said Ganth.

It had taken some time to untangle things. It wasn’t simply a matter of Docking Bay 14 being unpressurized; ninety percent of the docking bays in the third octant were unpressurized. And it wasn’t only a matter of them being unpressurized either. Because they’d never been subjected to atmospheric pressure, not only had a large number of safety checks not been done, there was more than a week’s worth of interior finishing which hadn’t been done either, because the plan had been for those final parts to be done by workers under pressure. Ten days of work had been stealthily moved from phase two to phase three. Yet despite that, the time estimate for phase three hadn’t been increased. Worse, the fact that so many docking bays remained out of operation meant that there was a persistent personnel bottleneck.

The more Jerjerrod poked around the mass of documents that made up the current plan, the more he found things like this. The records would show that something had been done, yet these things were only “done” because someone had changed the definition of done and pushed the remaining work into the future. Jerjerrod was three months into his time on the project when he’d had his breakdown and began trying to figure out how mismanaged the project really was. By his estimation, more than half of the work that was supposed to have been done in phase two had been pushed to phase three without any of the timelines being updated. Everyone in the hierarchy was lying to everyone above them, all of them pretending that everything was going well.

Jerjerrod constructed a new timetable. Using his most reasonably optimistic estimates, the second Death Star would be completed in sixteen years, taking four times longer than the original timeline.

Jerjerrod could have sent a message to the Emperor informing him of this fact, but enough time had passed since Jerjerrod had been put in charge of the project that blame would almost certainly fall on him, especially given the rosy reports that the Emperor had been receiving. Announcing that the schedule was too optimistic would be seen as a matter of personal failure. Under the Emperor’s regime, failure on this scale didn’t mean demotion or court martial, it meant death. So what was Admiral Tian Jerjerrod to do?

He started with some drastic alterations to the project plan. Safety checks were cut back or eliminated entirely, though he wasn’t sure whether anyone had even been doing those. He incorporated a number of factories into the Empire, which meant little more than coming in with a contingent of stormtroopers and declaring that the factory was now under the control of the Imperial Navy. With the savings that produced, he hired on more contractors and acquired more slave labor. In sum, this resulted in perhaps a 25% reduction in the total time the project would take, which would mean that it would only take three times as long as originally planned. Unfortunately, that was still more than enough to ensure Jerjerrod’s execution.

So Jerjerrod had taken a page from the playbook of his subordinates and begun weaving lies, both implicit and explicit. His reports on the progress of the second Death Star stopped mentioning delays and began mentioning recent successes instead, no matter how small. Target dates disappeared from his reports entirely. In this way his superiors saw nothing but a sunny, smiling outlook that was at odds with his frantic efforts to cut enough corners to meet his deadlines. He increased the number of hours in a shift, though it was questionable whether the impact to morale and the increase in productivity were worth it. It was well known that a man functions better in his first hour of work than in his sixteenth hour, so simply doubling work hours didn’t actually double productivity.

Jerjerrod made another assessment after eighteen months and found that he hadn’t made enough of an impact. He stole thousands of droids from a backwater planet and put them to work. He bought an enormous quantity of stimulants and made their use mandatory among the coterie of slaves, contractors, and enlisted officers. Jerjerrod began keeping two version of the project plan, the real one that he lived and breathed, and the fiction that he fed to his superior officers, though he kept from telling them anything of note if he could help it. Jerjerrod shifted priority to a particular part of the Death Star which would serve as the public face of the project if anyone came inquiring, but of course it was possible – or even probable – that the Emperor had spies to feed him information.

Following Darth Vader’s visit in the fourth year of the project, Jerjerrod sat down to re-evaluate both the project and his life. He had told Vader that they needed more men and been denied, but more men wouldn’t necessarily have helped. Nine women couldn’t make a baby in a single month. He had told Vader that they would double their efforts, but that simply wasn’t possible given that everyone involved was being run ragged. No, there was only one thing left to do, and that was to cheat as much as possible.

The Executor , first of the Executor- class Super Star Destroyers, had been built in four months. Every ship after that had taken ten months. How did you shrink ten months down into four? You could start by doing all the things that Jerjerrod had done, eliminating words like “testing” and “safety” and “sleep” from your vocabulary. Yet that wouldn’t make up for such a shortfall. The real answer to how the Executor had been constructed in four months was that it hadn’t been. Instead, the men and women who built the Executor had simply changed their definition of done. The ship had left the shipyard on time, under its own power, yet that was virtually all that it was capable of. The rest of the construction had been done as “final touches” to the ship long after its maiden voyage, at a far greater expense than if the ship had simply been completed in the shipyard.

That left Jerjerrod with the question of what it meant for the Death Star to be “done”. Jerjerrod pulled up a diagram of the battle station and began throwing away pieces of it. There were supposed to be five thousand ion cannons; Jerjerrod immediately discarded half of them. He threw away armor, cooling systems, and whole swaths of crew quarters, commissaries, life support, and detention blocks. All of that could come later. The second Death Star would be delivered done*, and hopefully nobody would notice the asterisk. There would be vast portions of the battle station that were exposed to empty space with only the shield on Endor to protect them from enemy action, but Jerjerrod could simply say that he had faith in that shield and that the “final touches” were merely cosmetic.

Vader’s words echoed in his head. The Emperor was coming.

Jerjerrod ran his men into the ground in those final weeks. When he received word that the Emperor was arriving, he felt a pang of dread. He wasn’t ready. Yet what man could truly be ready for his own execution? He would try his best to explain, to outline where the failures had begun piling up, he would shift the blame to those below him, but he would not go quietly to his death.

“Everything looks well, Admiral Jerjerrod,” the Emperor said with a gravely voice and a smirk, shortly after he stepped off his ship. “Our plans are coming to fruition.”

Jerjerrod had been ready with an apology and excuses, but hadn’t prepared himself for that reaction. He stood there for too long with his mouth hanging open. And then, just like that, the Emperor had swept past, to his specially prepared throne room that had far more attention lavished on that than any other part of the ship. There were no inspections of the station, no recriminations, no requests for reports, none of what he had feared. Jerjerrod was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but the station was clearly incomplete to anyone with two eyes and the Emperor had complimented him .

Was there any greater feeling of relief than the one Jerjerrod had felt in that moment? Was there any higher experience than such a reprieve from death? The Death Star sat woefully incomplete and for the first time in three and a half years, Jerjerrod didn’t care. He had gone up against impossible odds and somehow, through some fluke of the Emperor’s will, or on the strength of the lies he’d told, he had won.

Editor’s note: Admiral Tian Jerjerrod tragically lost his life just six days later in the Battle of Endor.

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Instruments of Destruction

3 thoughts on “Instruments of Destruction

  1. I found this behind the scenes story to be excellent. It tells a tale that needed to be told and you did so with gusto. The Star Wars universe is vast and we all know what happens, but we usually only see the story from the main characters perspective. The really interesting stories are often the ones that we’re not told about such as characters like Tiaan Jerjerrod. You laid out a competent account of how we got to where we ended up without overlong filler and hyperbole. Not an easy task!. Congratulations!

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