by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
It's become even colder now, if that's possible. I've been given a heavier
blanket (which I was given the pervious winters) and a small heater, which
is new. I wonder what I have done to deserve this, this reward. Surely it
must be that, no one else has a heater. Sometimes I wish they wouldn't give
me these things, these extras. I am no better or worse than any other woman
here. I just have the coincidence of being your wife. Of having been.
Did you think I was going to say 'unfortunate'?
Then I feel even more guilty, because I appreciate the heater. I've hooked
it onto the headboard, it's amazing what a little thing like that can do.
It's too small to help the floor though, and that is one plight I share with
all the other prisoners. The shoes we wear are not really shoes at all- more
like soft-soled leather slippers. In the summer, they are a grave relief,
but now they become another risk. I've taken the cotton sheet, the one I use
in the summer, and torn two strips from it, to wrap around my feet. It isn't
much, but it lessens the frostbite. Last year a woman died of the cold-
hypothermia, they said it was, in their own cold way.
"Her bunkmate found her," said Courwyn, whispering to me in the fresher.
"No body noticed it at first," she said, in a way that told me she'd been
there, though not directly involved. Courwyn was standing under the unit to
my left, working her hands through her ebony curls. I almost stopped what I
was doing, to listen, but I remembered what that could be interpreted as.
"We were all in a hurry to get the beds made, get our robes on. The troopers
get annoyed if we dally, you know," Courwyn went on, then paused
expectantly. I nodded to show that yes, I did know. "The girl had the top
bunk, and Anshii-- that's the girl who shared with her-- realized that the
girl's robe was still hanging there, and that she wasn't even awake. Anshii
didn't say anything, she just wanted to get the girl out of bed. It'd be bad
for both of them if the troopers came and things were left undone. She
climbed up on the ladder and started shaking the other girl, slow at first
and then really hard. Anshii thought the girl had just gone into herself,
like some of them do."
"They do?" Then I did pause, if only for a moment. One of the Stormtoopers
turned my way, and I bent down, pretending to wash my legs. I shouldn't have
said it so loud, but my curiosity had peaked a little. I wasn't the only
one, then, overwhelmed by the desire to live inside memories. The color is
so much brighter, there.
"Hell, yeah," Courwyn muttered, then eyed me sharply. "Don't even think
about it. You know what they do with cases like that?" I squeezed my eyes
shut, desperately, not wanting to hear it but knowing I needed to. It would
discourage me. "They use 'em. Even Imperial Officers need bribes, you know. Most
of them don't have girlfriends to go home to, and if they do they barely get
to see them. One of us goes too far in, it's like an open invitation. After
all, the girl doesn't put up a fight."
Silence stretched between us. My stomach had forced itself up somewhere in
my throat; my mind conjured up a threatening image of what that might be
like. To be a doll, empty, with no soul- an instrument, valued for its
usefulness only, not for emotion, or even beauty. I felt hungry, I needed to
eat to prove myself alive.
"What happened, to the girl?" I prompted. Courwyn looked up, almost
startled. Perhaps she had been experiencing the same vision. She cleared her
throat, once twice, like something had caught there.
"That's when I heard Anshii scream. Seems that the girl's lips had turned
blue, or her eyes were open, or something really obvious. I was already on
my way over with another girl-- thank the Maker we'd both gotten up a little
before the bell, so we had our beds already made. Anshii had fallen down the
ladder and was sitting on the floor crying. I looked over the railing, felt
for the girl's pulse. Dead cold, you wouldn't believe it. Like a block of
ice." I shivered, even in the warmth of the fresher. At least they keep it
warm in there.
I think about it sometimes, before I go to sleep. I draw the heavy blanket
over myself, use what's left of my cotton sheet as a shawl. I cross my arms
over my breasts, wonder if I will wake up in the morning. Who would find me?
A Stormtrooper or one of the few officers, most likely, not someone who would scream or cry. I have the
heater now, I shouldn't have to worry about it.
I'm not sure how I feel about that.
Today, we had snow. Falling from the pitch black sky, lit only from the
pale glow of the cafeteria, resting against the sky-lights. Eventually it
covered them all together; no more darkness, just blank white. I think about
snow now-- on Coruscant it was a rare and beautiful thing. The technical
crews were always so certain they'd mastered the weather of our city-planet,
beaten it into submission; but every once in a while something unexpected
would happen, as if to prove we did not have control after all. Or it might
only have been the planet stirring from its slumber, reminding us that it
was a live thing in its own way. Sometimes I think it was waiting for us to
Thunderstorms were the most common of anomalies. Snow was more unusual, but
I can remember a few times. Something of a miracle, that, to have snow
happen on Coruscant. I think about the tiny white flakes, catching the
lights of buildings that dotted the sky. Normally these lights were merely
pretty- but the snow made them beautiful. I think about walking with you, in
the central pavilion, arms linked, both of us gazing up at the sky. I wore
less elaborate gowns, because it was our time together and I wanted no
complications. Over that I had a cape, trimmed in fake fur, which you always
said made me look unreal.
The whole thing was unreal, you said, frozen water from the sky. Think of
I do, and then I think of the snow from a different view. Falling past my
window, collecting on the sill, making little shadows across the carpeting
and my hair. My own hair, long and in wavy ringlets, spread over the
carpeting because we could not wait long enough to make it to the bed.
The snow never lasted long.
It was not snowing the day I received the summons. Nor was it raining,
though I always think of rain- I must have added that in. This is the way it
always is, I think of happy times, with you, and then I think of something
else. Something that cancels it out. It wasn't raining, but it was gray. A
shadow had fallen over the sky. I know because I could see it through the
large bay window in Bail's suite. I had moved in with him then, though we were
never alone, and it was certainly nothing more than a sanctuary for me. It
would be easier to hide there, Sabe` reasoned, Palpatine would not want to
make a display of the Alderaanian senators until he had solidified his power-- he would not send soldiers for me.
She was right, to a degree. He did not send Stormtroopers, but he sent his
personal summons, which is the same thing. Bail was not home, and the
message was hand-written, delivered by a man in Imperial uniform. The door
slipped shut, and Sabe` handed the sheet of plasi-paper to me without even
looking at it, though she must have been thinking the same as I.
This is it, I thought.
I unfolded it, held it up to the light, viewed the inky black words with
"What does it say?" Sabe`'s voice, risen to a pitch of fear I'd never heard
before. I had turned away from her without meaning to, sat down heavily on
the window seat. Through the doorway, I could see Leia sitting on the floor
in the kitchen, looking at her prisms. She had less enthusiasm for them, now
that Luke was gone. I shook my head, turned to look out at the gray sky. I
felt Sabe` take the plasi-paper from my hands, and I let her. Moments later,
I felt her embrace me, but for all I was worth I simply could not return it.
Apathy seeped into my bones, I raised my eyes to hers, hoping she
understood. She seemed to.
I was still sitting there, when Bail come home. Leia had crawled over to
me, was playing with the sash of my nightdress. It had been morning when the
summons arrived, now it was evening. I hadn't moved all day.
Bail said, harshly, "Come away from the window." I did not answer. I'm not
even sure I heard him, he might have told me he said that. "Padme, someone
is going to see you!"
"It doesn't matter," I said, as if I myself couldn't quite believe it. I
heard, rather than saw, him approach me, reach down and pick up the
plasi-paper. He read it out loud-- he didn't mean to be heartless.
"Senator Padme Amidala of the Naboo will have audience with His Majesty at twenty
hundred tomorrow evening." Simplistic, deadly, as most things are. At least
Palpatine didn't word it as if I had a choice. I heard the plasi-paper being
crumbled, but it sounded like a window being broken, in my own ears. I did
not look at Bail-- he would be angry, or upset, I knew him well enough.
"Pad-", I looked up sharply, and he finished the name. All of it. I did not
let it pass that he had tried to use it, though, your name for me. For a
moment we looked at each other; Bail stubborn, myself hurting, Leia in
between-- oblivious. How grateful I am that she was so young then. Even if it
means she will not remember me.
I felt something fall into my lap. Bail had knelt beside me, put his arms
around my waist, his head in my lap. It seemed to numb the lower part of my
body. I felt removed. I looked down without moving my head, saw Bail gazing
up at me. It came to me that he wasn't staring at me, but at my wedding
ring, suspended between my breasts by a small gold chain. The nightgown was
cut low enough; blue silk, with gold fret work. It had been a wedding
present. I moved my hand up, felt my fingers brush the small gold ring. A
circle. It was supposed it symbolize continuity. It was supposed to mean
something that doesn't end. I had taken it off my finger, but I wasn't able
to get rid of it, either. They'd started telling me things about you,
horrible things. They were true, I knew that much. There was no denying it.
I hadn't seen you yet, though. Or whatever it is that pretends to be you.
I said, "He will be there."
"The Emperor..." Bail began.
"No," I looked away again, disappointed. So far, Bail and I had been able
to work our friendship around this. I said it again, "He will be there." A
sigh, the weight removed from my lap, arms pulling away. Bail sat back,
slightly away from me, on the floor. I looked down to the place he had been,
imagining you there instead. The image was not hard to conjure, I had
memories to back it up. I envisioned you, as I still do now, as you were in
the time before. Wild Brown-blond hair chopped off just above your shoulders, bright
blue eyes, a small scar on you chin from one mission or another. The long cut down your left temple, which you always joked looked so 'dashing'. I have
stopped you at this age, so that I will not have to think about what comes
The feeling came back into my legs, so I stood, and Leia clamored to be
picked up. I held her in my arms, let her lean against me. She thrust her
thumb in her mouth and her free hand into my hair, closed her eyes
contentedly. Bail too, was standing, waiting for me to move.
"You shouldn't go," he said at last.
"How can I not?" I began to pace, glancing up on occasion.
"We can smuggle you out," his words were coming quickly, his eyes following
my movement, "A group of politicals are leaving tonight, you could go with
"And jeopardize their safety?" I asked, my voice tight. Mon Mothma had
taken great care to cover the mission, but my presence would act like a
beacon. Mind blocks or no mindblocks, I knew you would be able to find me,
if you really wanted to. You were simply waiting. As long as you knew where
I was, you could do things in your own sweet time. The Emperor must have
forced your hand at something, then.
"I'll take care of it," Bail snapped, which meant; "I'm going to do it
anyway." He continued, "You can get sanctuary on Alderaan, I'll arrange it
myself. We should have done this earlier. I don't know why you insisted on
staying here." He moved towards the computer, as if he intended to take of
all the arrangements in one foul swoop.
"He'll come after me," my voice was quiet, but it carried. I was working on
logic only now, my emotions had been severed. Like a limb, laying on the
floor in a pool of blood. Amputated.
I had Bail's full attention. He knew that what I was saying was true. You
would come after me, there was prior evidence to back it up. It was always
like that between Bail and I, everything needed proof, reference, like the
essays of my youth.
"Then we can..."
"You can't stop me from going." The two sounds overlapped, became one
noise. I sat down on the sculpted white couch-- all Alderaanian furniture is
sculpted, fluid-- shifting Leia's weight in my arms. She had fallen asleep at
one point, the pacing motion must have soothed her. Tomorrow, I would see
you. I heard my heart beating, pumping blood; open, close, open, close. I
didn't know what to expect. Bail came, took the seat beside me, put his hand
He said, "I'll take care of Leia."
I said, "I can put her to bed."
That's not what he meant.
Bail was very fond of Leia. There were times I would wake up from my naps
(I had stopped sleeping through the night, and inside spaced out my rest
throughout the day) to find him playing with her, or reading her a story,
teaching her a new way to stack the prisms. He had already adopted her, or
allowed her to adopt him. Leia was an affectionate baby, but she made an
attachment to Bail that was different from her relationship with my other
friends, the other people in her life. I am glad, now, that I have always
thought Bail would make a good father. He will protect Leia, if it becomes
necessary, when the time comes. We were passing her off as Breha's daughter-- that she'd died recently with her own stillborn child was perhaps the only fortune we managed in that situation. Fortune-- as if you could call someone's death that. Late at night, guilt comes to me with Breha's face, the picture from her holo as a youthful royal bride. I did not know her well, but I recognized the bemused set of her lips in that somewhat younger face. So serene, being wed to the man she'd been promised to from birth. I recall her dark eyes and wonder if she too will look after Leia, the daughter she was never able to have. Even if only in name, she is in some ways closer to my baby.
But I am not adverse to the company of ghosts.
If she'd been able to reach the MedCenter, Breha might have been alright, though three previous miscarriages cast her body in a weakened light. There was no getting to the MedCenter that day, Bail told me-- he returned to his apartment to find Breha gasping in pain, surrounded by handmaids and the one MediDroid they could find. Already her life was flowing out of her, a riot of blood to mirror the one that made venturing outside so dangerous. There were a lot of riots, that's how hot things were. The public areas were unsafe, even during the day. Palpatine may have cemented his political power, but the public wasanother matter altogether. It always has been.
There was no comfort, no hospital for Breha that day, and the little girl she bore drew only one tiny, mewiling breath.
We had the birth certificate
made-- Leia's, she hadn't had one previously- almost right away. The
Rebellion had already seeped into the ranks of the Empire, though we were
careful to make sure that they stayed where they were. Bail claimed her publically
immediately, and planned to send her back to Alderaan when... when...
Well, just when. That was where the conversation ended. Always.
Maybe Bail expected me to marry him, at some future date, so that I could
stay with Leia, though now I find it difficult to believe he could have
faith in such a thing. So crowded it would have been, in the marriage chamber; you and Breha laying beside us, stirring our nightmares with your lack for breath. I could never have married him, it would have been a
sham, even if it was only for Leia's sake. Also, it would have given Bail an
excuse, and I had thus far denied him such toeholds. There was a push and
shove between us, over such things. It occurs to me now that I expected him
to betray me as well.
I also didn't expect to live very long, anyway.
I dressed in black, the next morning, calmly, without tears, or a smile, or
anything at all. I fastened the mourning veil in my hair, but pulled it away
from my face. Double symbolism; I would let you take that as you wanted to,
or not at all. Sabe` helped me do my makeup-- the china-doll face, the
irregular shape of the lips. I was dressed conservatively, without ornament. It had been years since my reigh, but I was walking in as Queen. The Emperor had already wrung poor Apinalla's slim, pale neck; a public execution for all Nubian traitors. Looking back on it, I realize how strange
that ritual was. How often does the corpse dress itself for the funeral?
Sabe` said nothing to me, but she did kiss me on either cheek. Her lips
came away white, but that may have just been the make-up. I whirled swiftly
on my heel, let my hands rest on the cool wood of Leia's crib. It was oddly
reminiscent-- I remembered when Luke was taken. Leaning over the crib, I
brushed my fingers over Leia's small mane of hair, gazed into her brown
eyes. They were mirrors of my own, those eyes, and wide awake. My wedding
ring, still suspended on its chain, dangled over Leia. It caught the light,
glimmered, and Leia reached for it, batting at it with her small fingers. I
kissed her, told her I loved her, and left. After that, I don't know what
happened. For her anyway.
You know what happened-- for me. For us.
That's a strange thing to say, now.
I wonder where my wedding ring is, because when I woke up here, it was