by Meredith Bronwen Mallory

|1700 hours, 27th of Levitite|

Now there is time to be filled, or edited out. I must distract myself from my own waiting, or else tomorrow and the newscast with all its secrets, will never come. I wonder if the holo-transmission can be recieved in this system, is being recieved even now, while Tarkin and his little colored squares lean forward to watch, smiling dryly at the thought of making me wait. That I feel indignation is surprising, but somehow delightful-- delicious, sweet and sour on the tongue. I need it, this annoyance, because it says that I, too, deserve respect, and I, too, deserve knowledge. Funny how that changed so quickly, my belief in my own importance, how the Stormtroopers, guards and bean-pole Admirals tricked me out of it. Part of it is my own fault, because I wasn't paying attention when they stole it from me.

You must know all about that, the stealing of things like love and honor and respect. Surely you know all the ways to slip it out from under your victims, while they are not looking. Now it is as if I am talking to a blurred image, a painting etched over with something else: the you of the time before, and the one who has taken your body. Why can't I be logical? Why can't I understand that the two of you are one, that there isn't any difference, that you have betrayed me completely? I saw it, I was there.

The truth is, I am a time traveler. I lay here on the bed, then slip out of my body, traveling down roads known only to myself. That is why I can not concieve of Vader, who is you-but-not-you. I go back too much, and the present is all in grayscale, so that I am more apt to believe the vibrant colors of the time before. There is always a danger I won't find my way back, that my eyes will go dull. The medic droid will know what it is, he will say nothing can be done. Some Stormtrooper will roll me over, flat on my back and straight like a paperdoll. Blank, unyielding-- but he won't care. My eldest cousin, a girl with hair so blond that it was almost white, used to tease us-- the younger children-- saying that we would loose our bodies.

'Be careful when you go to sleep,' she'd say, hushed and close to our ears, so the adults wouldn't hear. 'Tie a ribbon around your hand, and then to the bedpost. Otherwise, when your body rolls over, your spirit might not come with it. Do you know what happens then?' We'd nod our heads, clinging to one anothers' chubby little bodies, mute with fear. 'Metal spiders come,' she'd intone wisely, 'the demons that live under Theed make them. They eat little souls, it's their favorite food. Careful, or they'll come after you with their big pincers!' Her hands would leap at us, claw-like, transformed into spiders by our terrified imaginations.

Sometimes, when I actually believe in Vader, I think that's what he must be. A black spider, a carnivor that crept up and sucked your soul inside, when you weren't looking.

My sister and I tied ribbons around our wrists, like flat new veins, connecting them to the bedpost, then to each other.
We said to each other, 'I won't let them get you.'

See how easy it is, to fall back, a slow motion, without even thinking about it? Now I am in my apartment on Coruscant, in the bedroom with the tall windows curtained in crushed-rose-red. It is easy to remember the details, I never moved anything, even when I left to live with Bail. Instead, I stood in the doorway, Leia in one arm and my small bag in the other, memorizing. I wanted to freeze the room, hold it in my mind as a Sanctuary. I ran my eyes over the whole of it, even the cherry-wood cradles that made my heart clutch. The cradles are not there now, pushed up against the wall and lined in neutral white, because the twins have not yet been born. The bathroom, the red crystal and the door between us has not happened yet. The vanity is there, though, and the dresser that you carved yourself. Our wedding picture crowns the top, though my veil is off and it would look to an outside simply like a picture of two close friends. It is surrounded by lithe glass figures and detailed ship models. Far in the back of the closet, a spare set of your robes is hidden behind my silk and finery. This is marriage, an arrangement of two things composing a whole. The bed is large, sclupted yellow white and canopied, not with lace but with a smooth cloth that makes it look like a sailing ship. Outside, beyond the red cutrains, it is morning or midnight, I don't remember which. It doesn't matter, the door is locked and we have borrowed time from somewhere. One of my meetings, one of your training sessions? It is the second year of our marriage, we are still newly-weds, still accorded such things.

I wake because I feel my hair sliding along my back, being lifted, played with. I stretch, moving in the thick sheets.
"Anakin," I make my tone suspicious, "Are you braiding my hair to the bedpost again?" You laugh, shaking the pillows.
"Of course not, darling," you say, trying to sound offended. I snort in disbelief, I have woken up before to find my hair bound carefully to the bedpost. Do you remember? You thought it funny, and even when I yelled at you, you swore up and down you'd never damage my braids. Presently, I roll over, fixing you with a dubious stare.
"What *are* you doing, then?" You've flopped down at the bottom of the bed, working to where my hair brushes against the backs of my thighs.
Smiling mischieviously, you say, "I got bored waiting for you to wake up. Hold on, I'm almost done." I'm giggling now, flattered as you take hold of the two braids and motion for me to sit up. The columns are twisted around, wrapped about my head, smoothed and tucked haphazardly by your large hands.
"Hand me my mirror," I straighten my back, looking at you with what you call my 'royal smile'.
"Yes, your Highness," you mock. You hold my silver hand-mirror before me, so I can see the 'mess' you've made, but the first thing I see is your grin as you rest my head on your shoulder. My hair looks like a tiara, or thick like a wreath, with the ends of the two braids hanging down.
"Poor girl's braids," My smile fell, if you'll recall, but I wouldn't tell you why. I'd said it so softly, you hadn't heard.
"Displeased, your Magesty?" you asked.
"No," I tried on another, different smile, "No." I shook my head, sent the braids tumbling down, their ends already loosening. "I just think I'm going to have to keep you from getting so bored."
'Poor girls' braids'. I never did tell you why.

There was a famine in my village when I was five.The sky closed up over itself, refused to rain, the mountain was drilled hopelessly for springs, and it seemed as if our collective lives were somehow evaporating in the heat. My memory is spotty, like a snake borrowing underground and then up again, but one day my Father loaded some of our things into bundles and strapped them to our backs. We walked-- my Mother, Father, little sister and I-- five miles down the moutain side, our feet poised on rocks, splipping when the dry dirt caved; to get to a town with a transport system.
'In the big city,' my Father kept repeating, 'I'll be able to find work. We'll have a fine apartment and you girls will go to the Plaza dances. Won't that be fun?" My sister and I were too busy crying our hunger to answer. I might not have heard him through it. My mother simply shook her head, the way she did when Father fibbed.

The city we went to was not Theed. It was not steaped in layers of tradition, it did not have grand walkways and ornate spires. Instead, square buildings like coffins rose to scrape the sky, which always seemed gray, not the blue of the moutain village. Once I told my sister that I would only marry someone with the sky in their eyes, blue going on forever. I wonder, now, if your eyes have turned to the coffin-scraped gray. My father had told the truth only in the most general sense. We did have an apartment; it was a one room square, with rags piled in the corners to make beds. My mother, always refined no matter what, carried in empty crates the delivery droids left behind because she wouldn't have us sit on the floor. My sister and I *did* see the Plaza dances, but we never attended them. Instead, we peeped at them secretly from side streets and alleys, watching the beautiful women twirl effortlessly, their long ornamental gowns like the folded wings of an angel.

The first memory is not of the city itself, but of my clothes. I wore a rough dress of blue, which slowly turned to brown, gray and black, the swatches my mother used to patch up the holes. The dress fell to my knees, brushing against the long colorless stockings that encased the rest of my legs. My mother tied an apron over the dress, a lighter color, then bound a strip of cloth around my waist. I was to carry the money my sister and I earned in there. In all the three years we lived in the city, I can only remember changing my shoes. My mother gave me her old ones, which were too big and had to be stuffed, giving mine to my sister.
'Poor girl's braids,' my mother would sigh as she plaited my hair. And she was right-- she did not have time to weave the intricate braids of highly-born women, nor could we afford to decorate my hair with ribbons and beads. Instead she wond the braids around my head, pulling them down over my ears for a hat in the winter time. To make up for it, she took a tiny clay vile, smaller than my palm and filled it with dried flowers. She tied it around my neck with a red ribbon she stole.
'This will keep you safe outside,' she whispered, touching the vile, then the ribbon, 'It brings good fortune. Red is the color of vibrant joy.'
Your lightsaber, the one you weild now, is red.

My mother wanted to keep me safe, you see. I was always outside, walking the narrow busy streets with my sister. We each carried two buckets tied to a pole and braced on our shoulders like a scale, filled with davi` fruit, and long skiny erdrits that grew in the spring. When I took the Throne of Naboo and the priestess placed the cool jewel of Zenda against my foredhead, I discovered that the weight of my people was the weight of those buckets, those scales, on my back.

I'd call out in my loud, older sister voice, 'Fruits for sale! Fruits for sale!' And my sister, in her cute soprano would chorus, 'Cheap, very cheap!' The streets we worked were market places, filled with activity, fine clothes and animals. Some of the poor families lined their children up, solem faced girls and boys with messy hair, to be rented out as servants. I didn't know that at the time, though; I thought they were being auctioned permanently. I was always careful to get as much money as much as I could-- I was afraid my parents would sell me too.

'I'm a person and my name is Anakin.'
We have more in common than you thought.

Time distorts now, twists and brings me elsewhere. I am still in a rough blue dress and colorless stockings, but I have no apron and no clay vile to keep me safe. My hair tumbles down my back in the braids of a handmaiden; I stand uncertainly in the center of a shop, the heat clinging to me. You look up from your work, covertly at first, and then obviously. Your face is as childlike as the boys up for hire in the market-place of my childhood, your eyes the blue of long-lost mountain sky. The eyes of the person I told my sister I would marry.
'An Angel. I heard the traders talking about them. They're the most beautiful creatures in the universe.'

My mother did not think I was beautiful. It was my mind, said she, that was my crowning glory. My face was too round, too much like the moon, and my gray eyes were unremarkable, the same for my hair.
'You're so intellegent,' she would say, smiling secretively, 'You'll be the gem of Naboo one day.' Then shaking her head, 'No, the beauty went to your sister. She has the mind of a reed, though. Won't hold anything.' Her compliments were canceled out by her negative statements, but she seemed to distinguish between her two children this way. I was bright, my sister beautiful. It was me she despaired over, though, fearing a waste of my mind.
'Aou,' she'd scold my father in our tiny apartment, 'You have to make more money.' Her face would pinch with worry, 'At this rate Padme will grow up in a dirt hole, she'll never go to school. One of those horrid theaters will buy her for a waitress! Whatever will we do then! Aou," her voice rose as she gestured with her hands, "She'll wear those little silver dresses that don't cover anything. They're cut down to here! A dirty old man will make an offer right away, I'm sure.'
'Mother?' my voice, 'Make an offer about what?'
"Aou, you hush now." She had the uncanny ability to forget my presence entirely.
'You're the one always saying she's not pretty,' my father muttered. 'If she's not pretty, they won't buy her.'
'She's not pretty!' Mother again, sternly, 'It doesn't matter anyway, the theaters buy anyone. Dirty old men just want someone to lie with. Doesn't matter if she's young enough to be their daughter.'

Later, when we moved to the farm in the mountains, with the vineyards I played hide and seek in, I was given my own room so that I could have peace and quite to study. My sister and my cousins-- all twelve of them-- had to share rooms, pushing and shoving to claim space as their own.
'Hush!' I'd hear my mother shout above them, 'Aou. Our smart Padme is studying now, so be quiet. Tomorrow she will walk to Frenyai to take her exam. If you don't hush, your shouting will bother her, and I will never forgive you.' I would hear her turn on her heel, stalking off to scold the younger aunts about how noisy their children were. Our household was large, all of us pressed together into a human machine that worked the land. Aunts were like older sisters, Uncles like second fathers, cousins became siblings. Nothing that happened ever went unnoticed. Yagoma has been flirting over the fence with a boy working the next pasture; Shidon got into a fight in village school; Uoke cried last night because she got a pimple. Meals were loud, filled with laughter and talking.
I miss those.

On days when I had an exam, my mother helped me dress. I wore long frocks then, in deep greens, reds, purples and golds. Her hands would smooth my thick, bright coat, the one with the gold buttons. She wove a matching ribbon into my hair, which was plaited with intracacy and no longer those of a 'poor girl'. I still had the vile, and would clutch it as I walked or rode to the city holding the exam, holding my breath.
'Let me do well,' I begged, 'I want to do well.'
At eleven, I scored highest in the region and was sent to Theed to train.

I never told you any of this. Our lives connected briefly at one point, then diverged again, came together. Do you remember, during our first year of marriage, how we took turns asking each other questions, one a day? Never about childhood, though, never before the first time we met. If I asked you about your life on Tatooine, you'd tell me about your mother instead, about her misadventures before she was captured by slavers. Now I think I should have told you, about how my sister and I begged in the streets, dressed in dirty clothes. How I was afraid I'd be sold into slavery.
Would it have made a difference?

At the Academy of Legislature Apprenticeship, they taught us about morality and justice, and how they aren't always the same thing. Sometimes, good people take the fall, even when they don't deserve it. Eyes on us, solem and scholarly: 'It's important that you understand the difference. Always act in the best interest of the people.' We'd nod, equally solem; girls in our gray, high-collared dresses with the wide front pockets. We'd fold our hands inside those pockets, hold on tight, reminding ourselves of the weight on our shoulders.
'Fruit for sale! Fruit for sale!' on the gray winter street.

I am not thinking about that now, though. I am thinking about Aiohi, the girl in the dorm room across from me. She came from a wealthy family, but her smile was real, and her black hair fell against the nape of her neck from its place in a dainty single bun. On holidays she would hold a meal for those of us who could not go home, her freckled hands passing out plates and cups laced with pale flowers. She brewed Iiopi, all by herself, the sweet honey-gold liquid that tasted like happiness, the red ribbon for vibrant joy. The Iiopi was placed in a copper soup tureen, and she carried it reverently, kneeling with grace and chanting the runes in her whispery voice. Aiohi ladled the Iiopi out carefully into our cups, which we held out with eagerness and a smile.

'Teach me,' I begged her one holiday, 'Please? I want to learn how to serve the Iiopi.' I wanted to come to a full table, to kneel gracefully in my long dress, to pour the golden liquid into my guests' cups and have my hair brush against the nape of my neck when I bent my head. The table would be surrounded by my family, my children, little boys and girls, my husband with blue-sky eyes. I would be a household priestess, even when I was no longer in p0litics, even as my hair turned gray and my children married, giving me grandchildren. In my childish, twelve year old way, I promised myself I would give Iiopi to those I loved.

I never served any to you.

[Chapter Five]