by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
|21:00 hours, 24th of Levitite|
I'm not sure how to tell this, but the first thing I did was ask for the date. I look at the glyphs, above these words on the screen, and I run my fingers over them. I did the calculations, in my head, to find my place in the Nubian calendar. It is harvest season at home-- if it is still a home-- and things are beginning to hide.
21:00 hours. If I was on Naboo, in the time before, I would be preparing to retire. Turning down the bed, brushing out my hair, or perhaps in the sitting room with Sabe`, going over some last minute notes on the next days schedule. On Coruscant, I would be finishing late supper, still dressed in my senator's robes, looking worriedly at the clock. I would need to rush the meal, of course, even if you were sharing it with me, because the senate would return from recess in an hour. I always came home though, even if I spent more time getting there. Out of habit, I don't feel any longing when I think about this; oddly enough, it's like it happened to someone else. The longing will come, I'm sure, when I am more accustomed to my surroundings.
I am sitting on a bed-- not my bed because it is laid into the wall, the frame cool to the touch. There is no drawer. Also, the mattress is hard to move, simply set into the frame's basin. I don't have much to hide anyway, not anymore. There are glowlamps- three of them - set into the walls, turned down low, as if I am an invalid. And I am, even here, I am invalidated. On the cool metal floor, which hums beneath me every other hour, there lays a small brown rug. No tables though, nothing that is sharp, or could be broken and made sharp. I checked. The walls, save the glow lamps, are broken only by the doors. There are two of them, on either side of me, and both of them are locked.
I need to find a place to hide this, the TypePad, which once seemed so thin and small. Now it feels enormous, heavy and thick. Where will I hide it, in here? I don't know this room well, I have not touched its walls with my fingers, studied it to the intimate detail. This must be done quickly, all things hidden must be done quickly. The medic droid will come soon, to look at a wound that doesn't exist. I will need to make it exist, after I hide this. Perhaps there is room to slide it in between the mattress and the wall. It's worth a try.
|26:00 hours, 24th of Levitite|
Before I go any further, I need to tell how I got here, even if I'm not so sure myself. The whole thing was as being caught in a heavy rainstorm, where the water falls so swiftly that it blurs every outline, and the world is a different place entirely. I should tell how I got here, because I don't know *why* I am here. I will settle for the mechanics of the situation.
I heard the soldiers' footsteps, long before they came to my door. The echoes were horrible, mimicking a whole platoon when perhaps there were only four of them. I forgot to count, I was so surprised. Their footsteps neared my door, my room, and I began to panic. Why would they come for me, in the middle of the night? I was tempted to continue sitting there, TypePad in my lap, and wait for them to open the door. To what end, though? The stillness which had overtaken me the last few months had served me no better than my frantic struggling. Both were exhausting, both seemed pointless. It was so much effort, to move. I felt liquid, like something that had congealed around a central object, whatever that is. Once I began to move, once motion learned my body again, I was starved for it. I took the sheet from my bed, which was no more than a square, and tore another strip from it. Lifting my robes, I tied the strip around my abdomen, tightly. In the dim light of the glowlamp, I could see the scar bellow my ribs. The dark brown scabbing had faded somewhat, though the rough flesh had changed little. I ran my free hand over it for a moment, feeling the texture. There are days it seems like a drawing of sorts, a map embedded in my skin. Mostly, it just seems alien, something that has grown itself over me. Which is true.
Another sound from the hallway prompted me to move again. This is how distracted I am these days, by small things, by trivia. The larger things might crush me beneath their weight and not know it. I finished tying the strip of cloth around my waist and slipped the TypePad between it and my body. My hands released my robes, a gray curtain falling over me, concealing. I was afraid the cloth wouldn't hold, but I sat there quietly, hands folded. You'd think after all this time I'd be used to waiting.
Actually, I don't know what you'd think, anymore.
The beating of my heart, my caged-bird heart, eclipsed the sound of the door opening. The light spilled onto my floor, like a flood, but very artificial. It was too bright to be real. There were shadows in the doorway, insubstantial, and my eyes flickered over them quickly. None of them were you. I could tell just by the outlines, and a feeling like cool wine slid down my throat. It might have been relief. I sat there, blinking in the light like something so recently dug up; staring at the Stormtroopers who only stared back at me.
"Lady Vader," one of them said. I almost looked away, towards that corner of the room that belonged to her, but I didn't. They would expect me to answer for her.
I drew a breath past the pumping of my heart and said; "Yes?"
"You need to come with us, Lady Vader," he used the name again, waving it about as if it was some type of weapon. And it is, because it hurts.
"Alright," I said, as if I had a choice. This surprised me, but it didn't seem to phase him. My hands shook slightly, I felt I should not have answered at all. I should have looked him politely, mouth closed loosely, eyes filled with blank interest. If he repeated the name, I should have held myself still and pretended not to understand. Perhaps, if I waited long enough, he might have called me Madame Naberrie, Amidala of the Naboo, or even Lady Skywalker. At that last thought, cold overwhelmed me. That name which I had so prided myself on, no matter how little I used it, must have been destroyed. You cut away your old life, your old name, quickly and without mercy. Possibly none of my names exist, not a one of them lingers. Lady Vader may now be the only title accorded to me.
I don't want to think about that, it's too defining.
"This way," one of the Stormtroopers, the same one, said. He moved his hand inanely, gesturing towards the door, which is the only way out. At least the only one he'd use, at least the only one that works both ways. There are other ways to leave, but they are all permanent. I rose from the bed with grace that startled me and walked towards the door with my head held high. A few of the Stormtoopers slipped into step behind me, with the other one leading the way. Under the bright lights, our shadows were small, squat, decrepit things. They looked more like dark puddles of rain water, or stands for the doll on a music box. Round and round with no place to go. I had a music box once, with a little Nubian angel kneeling at the base.
'And now it's gone, doesn't matter what for...' it played.
I don't remember the rest of the words.
How strange we must have looked, this line of soldiers and a single prisoner, parading down the hall. Proceeding, really, as there was no one to see us. The TypePad moved in its pouch as I walked, and I wondered if the cloth would hold. From the corner of my eye, I glanced at each solider. Their helmets are a lot like binders, for lesser beasts of burden; they have no choice but to look ahead. Really, it's a lot like that. Slowly, I moved my arms to cross over my belly, holding the TypePad in place. I couldn't afford to let it drop. We reached the end of the corridor and turned down another less familiar one. I had never been down this one, it had been like a mirage; easily seen as myself and others like we were marched past it, but utterly unreal. At the far end there was a door, metallic and painted black, threatening in it's own vague way. That's where they are taking me, I thought wonderingly. No fear came to me, no sense of sadness. In a way, I was excited-- it was, after all, a change in routine.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am," said the lead Stormtrooper when we reached the door. I looked at him through one of my own masks. They were slowly coming back to me, the ones I had worn in the time before, and insanely easy to slip back on. I had not out grown them. The expression on my face was one of polite inquisitiveness-- I thought Lady Vader might know that one too. For a moment I thought he might be apologizing to me because I was going to die.
Well, hurry up about it, then.
I heard one of the soldiers beside me move, and turned to face him instead. He held in his hands a pair of binders, gleaming silver.
"I'm sorry," the leader repeated, tacking your name on the end of the sentence, "We need you to wear these." Inside, I felt the wild urge to laugh, because I understood now what was going on. He needed to ask for my permission, before any of them could touch me. Myself- the prisoner, the imprisoned! The situation only seemed surreal, but I nodded my head regally, carefully holding out my hands. I crossed them at the wrists and waited patiently, thinking with despair how stupid I'd been. Writing all these things down-- Leia certainly was the most at risk. From that seed of fear I saw a whole gruesome chain of events extend. Would Bail get any wind of your coming, or would you be meticulous and strike without warning? And if he should escape-- Bail, carrying Leia-- how far could he get? I thought of Leia, so small and dwarfed by your shadow, by the whole of your presence. Possibly, she would scream. I could see her little mouth, open and wailing as she did when Luke was taken. Shaking overwhelmed me again, briefly, and my jarred wrists connected very gently with the Stormtrooper's gloved fingers. He drew away in what seemed like shock, allowing the binders to fall to the floor.
"I'm sorry," I said automatically. No one said anything, but they were all looking at me. I know, because they had to move their heads to do it.
It only took one try to get the binders on again.
Bound and silent, I turned to face the black door. The Leader-- and he was so, simply by his movements-- stepped forward and keyed in the password. The door slid open, and let the winter inside. I felt the cold touching me, wind instead of still, recycled air. Outside, I could see forever until the wall, the flat expanse of a landing pad. There was a small, white shuttle sitting serenely to the side, as if it wanted to become one with the snow. The markings were unfamiliar, but I imagined it was Imperial. It reminded me of the Stormtroopers, it was like them somehow, in it's functionality and sameness. They led me out into the snow, and I felt only the heavy boots incasing my feet. No one had noticed them, and I thought with some sadness about Keronji. And Courwyn who escaped, and Anshii who's bunkmate was dead, and the girl from the freshers with the scar on her leg. Where ever I was going, I would have no allies.
The shuttle's ramp was already down, its engine warming. It was waiting for us, then, me and my kalescopic white shadows. As we climbed into the ship, I found I could see just slightly over the wall. I strained to see what lay on the other side, somehow expecting to see Courwyn's still, frostbitten body sprawled on the edge of freedom. There was nothing there, but that doesn't mean anything. Inside the shuttle was warm, and I found I missed the cold. Warmth threatens to melt me, lull me into sleep or a false sense of security. I am more aware in the cruel chill; solid and sure of myself, if nothing else.
"You can sit here, Lady Vader," said one of the soldiers. He gestured to a row of seats that ran the length of the shuttle. I paused again, waiting for her to answer, before I realized the duty would fall to me. I need to get out of that habit. I nodded slowly, pressing my bound hands against my abdomen as I sat. The TypePad wouldn't fall yet, I knew, but I didn't want to take any chances. Two Stormtroopers sat down beside me, one on either side, the others sitting across from us. I stared at them, wondering at the black lines on their helmets. Was there symbolism to this? I wondered. I hadn't really noticed the detail before.
"Ma'am," said the white one sitting to my left. I wondered if they were annoyed at having to prompt me so often. What did they think of this strange woman no one must touch, this woman who took (or was given, though that seems a mundane term) the name of a towering black menace? Possibly they thought nothing at all. Maybe they were just praying, the same thing as I; just let me get through this alive. I looked up at the Stormtrooper, then down at his hand. It was hovering over my own bound ones, which were sitting in my lap. My eyes focused on him again and I waited, daring him to reach down, pluck my hands from my lap. Any power is addicting, even when what little you have is make-believe. Finally, I raised my hands allowing him to attach the binders to the arm of my chair.
Where did they think I was going to go?
I felt a little sick when the shuttle began to lift off. At the time, I did not know how long it had been since I had last ridden in one. My mind raced across memories, trying to recall the most recent experience. I realized that I would not remember the last one, because I do not know how I came from Coruscant to... the planet that held the prison. It is unsettling to have such a ga[, but it does not reek of your doing. The last time I remember, then, was with Obi-Wan. From Naboo to Coruscant, nine months pregnant. I did not want to leave, of course, I was afraid that I would go into labor during the trip. And the whole reason I had gone back to Naboo was so that I could have my children there, someplace beautiful, instead of submissive Coruscant. The city-planet does have it's own beauty, but it is a worldly thing. Obi-Wan convinced me though, saying he had news of you, and that it was no longer safe on Naboo. He was only partially right, because I was no safer on Coruscant. You know that, of course. The trip, now that I think back on it, is laced with suspicion. I suspected Obi-Wan of lying, or telling one of his half-truths, and he suspected...
Well, what happened to you.
The chair beneath me rocked somewhat as we broke the atmosphere, and I turned my head just a little so that I might see the pilots. Their backs were too me, they faced forward and knew where they were going. Between them, I could see a patch of stars and the very edges of a larger Imperial ship.
Star Destroyer-- I know the terminology.
"This is shuttle Phaderus requesting permission to dock," said the pilot. He was not a Stormtrooper but a higher officer, dressed in pressed olive. I listened carefully, the thought occurred to me that they might be taking me to you. I felt... I don't want to discuss this.
"Shuttle Phaderus," came the voice on the other end of the line, "this is Star Destroyer 'Unquestioned Command', please give us your landing code." A string of numbers was given by the pilot, and answered with permission to land. The Star Destroyer loomed over us, suddenly, the only thing visible through the viewport. I leaned forward, curious, then glanced at the Stormtroopers around me. None of them moved to stop me, and I continued to look ahead. 'The Unquestioned Command', the name for this Star Destroyer. It couldn't be you, I decided anxiously, you always gave your ships female names. Or at least, you used to. That old, chill hand settled at the base of my spine-- that wasn't very reassuring.
So, the shuttle landed, my binders were unhooked, and I was lead down the gang plank and across the large docking bay. I placed my hands back over my belly, somewhat exhausted. I hadn't done this much walking in a long time. There were more shadows waiting at the other end of the bay, but none of them were tall enough to be you.
"Lady Vader," that name again, this time spoken by a stiff bean pole of a man in a olive uniform. His chest was decorated with little colored squares that meant nothing to me. "I trust your trip was well," very courteous, he was on his best behavior. I smiled only slightly, because I could see in his colorless eyes what he was thinking: *this* is Lady Vader? Small, dressed in gray, brown eyes dulled and brown hair short, her face barely responsive. No, that's not Lady Vader at all, and I am glad.
"Yes," I said. The possibility of you still hovered near by, and my face must have been as pale as my ritual paint. I continued to look up at him with a small, blank smile I didn't feel, waiting. He didn't bother to hide the fact he was looking me over, and his eyes finally caught on the way I was holding my middle.
"Have you been harmed?" he asked, and I heard the Stormtroopers shift behind me. I understood, they were responsible for me.
"Yes," I lied, horrified at my own inability to hide the TypePad, "Earlier, back at the prison. My wound has never healed completely." Which is true.
"Oh," he looked a bit frightened actually, but he covered it well. "We'll send a medic droid to you soon. You," he gestured to one of the the gray-clad officers. Even he probably didn't know who it was, "take Lady Vader to her room." I was led, still bound, down the endless white hallways, by a washed-out shadow who did not touch me.
'We'll send a medic droid *to* you.'
'*Take* her to her room.'
Oh, you strange man in your olive uniform, I don't need to be told I am still a prisoner.
So, I was presented with the room. The room with three glowlamps and two locked doors, though only one of them was locked at the time. The officer stood back, gesturing for me as the door slide open. He did this as if I could refuse, or say that the room displeased me. I could not, of course, and he knew this, but he was just following orders. What had his superior said? Perhaps he said not to touch me, or to be careful or else treat me with care. As if I am made of glass, and might break. It hasn't happened yet. I stepped inside, carefully, trying to disguise my interest. I wanted to gaze around the room, drink in the details of this new environment. Instead, I forced my gaze straight ahead, paused in the center of the room and turned back to the guard. Standing there, hands folded and face expressionless, I was as much a statue as he.
"We've called for the medic droid," he said, mostly because it was something to say.
"Oh," I nodded, though fear shot through me. I would need time to hide the TypePad. Had I brought it all that way for nothing?
"It will take a while," the officer went on, seemingly unnerved by my small response. "Will you be able to wait?" he asked, which meant 'Please don't die on my watch.'
"Yes," I said, relieved, "Thank you." I didn't meant for that to come out, but it did. The guard nodded, the barest movement of his helmet, and turned towards the door. "Wait!" the sound of my own voice so loud, surprised me, "Can you... can you tell me what day it is?" The officer paused, and I thought perhaps he was looking at me strangely. That might have just been my imagination.
"Gozefinee," the word was unfamiliar. The name for a day on whatever planet this soldier came from, I assumed.
I shook my head, frustrated, "No, the date, in standard... Please?" I added as an afterthought. I was starved for it, I thought I might pounce on this man and tear the information from his lips. I heard him sigh, perhaps in resignation. He named a date far removed for even my most drastic guess and I felt the world tilt. The numbers registered just barely in my brain; had I really been in that forsaken prison for so long?
"Thank you," I said again, this time meaning it. I turned away, to show him I wanted nothing else and a few moments later the door slipped closed.
I continued to stand, like a stilled hologram, in the center of the room. A sense of possession crept over me-- I needed to write down the date,so that I wouldn't forget. My fingers stole into my robe, plucking out the TypePad before I could even think about it. I think I would have continued to run my hands over the keys, my fingers caressing them like an instrument, had I not felt such a need to hide it away. The medic droid would come, and there was nothing wrong with me. I amend that; there is nothing wrong with me that can be seen. I would have to produce a wound, make it with my own hands. I have more practice at that then you'd think.
On the floor then, feeling the soft rug beneath me body. I pulled up the robes again, having hidden the cloth and the TypePad, and I gazed on my scar with a clinical eye. I studied my hands too, thankful that my clipped nails had grown somewhat. My hand fashioned itself into the type of claw I sometimes saw in my nightmares, I drew my barred nails across the scar. Pain flowered quickly, almost as soon as I touched it. I'd forgotten how sensitive it was, and I had to bite my lip to keep from screaming. Again, I drew my hand across again, again, and fourth time. Blood spiked on my tongue as I released my lip. The scar was swelling, a bright, angry red. Enraged, irritated, words they use for humans too. Drawing up my knees, I clasped my hands behind my head and pulled myself up. Part of me was afraid it wouldn't work, it'd been so long since I'd made myself bleed this way. It was a relief to see the small red stain on my robes, moving outward quickly. Satisfied with the result, I climbed to my feet and sat on the bed to wait.
I'm getting more practice at this. Can you tell?
So. The medic droid came, tall and gangly with it's multiple arms, it's three eyes for scanning and assessing damage. It bent over me, inspecting my abdomen, and then the twin scar on my back. He reminded me of Threepio in a way, the droid, though there was little physical resemblance. It's memory had obviously been wiped more than once, and it had no real personality, much less the eccentric type Threepio possessed. Perhaps it was the way it shook its head, almost in disapproval, that reminded me. I felt sorry for it-- it seemed more human than the harvest droids.
Here I am. Bandaged, with the blood dried on my fingers. There's time to spare now, nothing pressing to draw my attention. So much has happened, so much excitement. Perhaps too much. How long has it been since I was sitting in my room, spiraling comfortably downward? It was a lot like falling asleep, that gradual loss of awareness. Numbing, and I almost welcomed it.
Well, I'm wide awake now.
I know you're not here, though I'm not sure how I have convinced myself of this. It's true, I believe that it is. I would know, if you were here somewhere, in this triangle riddled with mazes. Surely, if you were here, I would sense it. The hair on the back of my neck would rise, I would feel a slight chill, that response to being watched. The only chill now is the sensation of being lost, misplaced. I am not where I am supposed to be. It's been that way for a while, though. I'm used to it. So, here I am; I was taken from my prison to the landing pad, from the shuttle to the Star Destroyer called 'The Unquestioned Command'. Why?
I almost miss the nails, rusted and blunt as they were. Almost, because I want to stay alive long enough to know. Why-- it's a vague question. You could start anywhere and still not get to an explanation. Possibilities stretch out before me, tempting me to consider them, jump to a conclusion. I have nothing to go on, though, and it would merely be an assumption. It could be the furthest thing from the truth. I lay back on the bed, which is set into the wall and almost like a coffin. My name is Padme` Naberrie Skywalker; they call me Lady Vader, but there is not enough room for she and I in this bed, in this coffin. I feel buried. Why have they unearthed me? There was no warning, they could have let me rot there, I am already dead.
At least to those who knew me.
Something stirs within me, not my caged-bird heart, but something else. It's familiar, but I haven't felt it in years. It might be hope. Or dread. They're the same thing, you know.
For the first time, it has occurred to me that you might not know where I am.