by Meredith Bronwen Mallory


|Rest Period|

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.


|Night|

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 go away.

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 it!
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 trepidation.
"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 after.

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 them."
"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 over mine.
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 gone.

[Chapter Three]