by Meredith Bronwen Mallory

|0300 hours, 28th of Levitite|

Sometimes I wonder if the real world-- the one with all the colors, the one without the locks-- has gone away. Faded, passed-- as you have-- into shadow. Into a land I can not comprehend. That's why I have to see a newscast, or else I am falling in a room with no sides. I'll come loose, come _undone_; as opposed to something done, finished, fully made. I hold my tongue, even as Tarkin circles me like a spider, clicking and spinning poisoned, sugar words.
"Lady Vader, are you well?"
"Lady Vader, did you sleep?"
"Lady Vader, have you eaten?"
I always say I have, even if the reverse is true. My mother taught me pride, which is more important than an empty stomach.

He's so polite, almost sickeningly fond, as if I am his charge. A wayward niece, essentially good, who must be shown the way.
"How are you today, Lady Vader?"
I would run him through, I think, face blank and filled with a serenity I have borrowed from somewhere. I think about it, this killing of my enemy, but there is no where to escape to, and anyways he is only a symptom of the problem, and not the cause. I rationalize, I explain. It's hard to find the energy to hate, or to care. It's hard to figure out if I should bother to manage.

When I was a student in the Theed Academy of Law, we girls held our philosophy primers in front of our stirring chests, close, like shields into battle. We learned the names of great thinkers; Queens, Princes, and Scholars. People with the time to wonder, looking up at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to come. We raised our green-branch voices to chant;
"To uphold the law is my duty,
The essence of the law is compassion.
If even one of my people is denied justice,
Then I am slain."
I think about this; the ultimate sympathy, a sort of magic. A cut on my neighbor's hand, and a gash mirrors on my own flesh. Appearing without cause, without my own will. In the shower, to which I am escorted daily (such a dangerous seven or eight meters!), I look at my feet. Covered with welts, with blood bruises and peeling flesh, they only hurt when I think about them.

Who does this belong to, this patch of over exposed skin?
What about this scar, the fading shadow of flesh pulled together in some operation I can not remember?
And the scar, just below my ribs. Straight through, impaled (which sounds like 'inhaled, drawn into my body'), like a butterfly on an examination disk. So sterile that there isn't any blood at all.
Was there blood, Ani?

A light saber would cauterize the wound as it went through, but I really don't remember. I was falling, so sweetly, a downward motion; a negative of 'falling in love'. I saw the high ceiling, the ornamental tiles, heard Palpatine's laughter and saw my ghost-wraith face reflected in the void of your mask, but...

Oh, I don't want to talk about this anymore.

Instead, I touch numb fingertips to my wounds, dreaming silently. A blind prophetess who sees everything too late, and all too soon.
If you feel a little pinch, Ani, under your armor, without cause or reason-- that's me. That's me, in the 'fresher on board the Unquestioned Command, raking uncut nails over my chest to make sure that I am alive.

But then, you may not notice that, on top of everything else.

|2100 hours, 28th of Levitite|

It seems so long ago. Anything, everything.
None of this has happened. I made it all up!
All of it, and I am a lonely woman at the bottom of the ritual well in Theed Temple, hip deep in the water and my own internal clockwork. A nervous, daydreaming virgin, lowered there by my family to be healed by the Deeps and their annoyed, well-meaning concern.

If only it were that easy.
Or else I am a flicker in the darkness, a flash in the pan, that has convinced itself it is feeling and alive. My memories of Teacher Ingeb, spouting philosophy as she smoothed her self-important bun back behind her ears, are nothing. Mere self-delusion. Except there is no self to delude. No me to ache, to hurt, and no you to waver (reality, fantasy, terror) between extremes.
I think I would deal better with you never having been, then with loosing you.
But, actually, I did rather poorly in first year Nubian Thought.
And anyway, that's too easy, and it doesn't work that way.

You, me, we're here; all of it so solid it could slit any number of throats. Real and concrete, absolutely impossible to take back. I know this; it was rather vague yesterday, and I may not know it tomorrow but, for now, I know.
I know, because I saw you today.
I think I'm starting to get a little desperate.

I told myself I had forgotten, or else I was not that naive and never expected anything at all. It would be very much like the beanpole Admiral Tarkin, who knows what pleasure it is to give, and to with hold. So sorry, my dear. A gentlemanly, elderly pat on my hair or-- more brazen!-- my cheek. I told myself he never intended to let me see a newscast, that I had known this from the start. I made this my reality, looking at the light trickling under my sealed door.

'Day' shift, then.
I stood up carefully, checking the safety of the TypePad, and pulled the blankets back up over the mattress. I came to the center of the room, under the unlit glow fixture, and lay down. Arms out, palms up, feet pointed perfectly-- a diagram of a human woman, or else a snow-angel, still born. Eyes open, I lay looking up at the ceiling. This is different from the upward staring I do in my bed.
The change of location makes it exotic.

A shaft of light, then-- the door opening. Tarkin's shadow, the negative of his soul, was impossibly more longer and prone to sting than the Admiral himself. Far too heavy for me to lay in, and I rolled onto my side, chin up, like a child caught doing something wrong.
"Lady Vader, I hope I'm not--" he paused, looking at me rather than through me, and blinked. "Are you alright?" Because, of course, regular people do not lie on the floor, staring upwards into a nothing that has no answers, and would not give them if it had any.
"I hurt," I said, loosely connecting this statement with my position on the floor. It wasn't a lie-- I hurt all the time, now. But then? No more than usual.
"We'll have to have you looked at," he frowned, saying this as if I was some object d'art, a relic to be appraised. He raised a colorless eyebrow, "We wouldn't want you getting ill."
Dear Admiral, I should relish the circumstance, and be sure to throw up all over your shoes.

I was heaved up by a pair of storm troopers-- something Tarkin ignored. They stood suspending my body between them, uncertain of me or my feet.
"Today is the day, Lady Vader."
I should have repeated his title, searchingly, in question. As if he had paused me in the Senate lounge-- 'oh, and you are?' or 'my, where does the time go?'
I am a busy woman, Admiral. My hours are pregnant with fear and my aloneness, and they have no room for you.
I didn't. I cast my gaze down and away, unable to look eager, unable to look anything at all. I have trouble feeling my face these days. Surely you understand.

So I was propped up, escorted, a little ceremonial doll tottered along behind the priest, to a room with a long black table. The walls were gray, but I didn't notice this until later. What I saw was the vid-projector, crouched in the middle of the table like a single, unblinking eye.

Should I make this a holiday, something to celebrate-- as Tarkin no doubt intends? Shall I clutch it closely, this glimpse out the window, and think 'how lucky!', as if this is some treasure. Something I don't deserve. The taste of the word, bestow-- I have no right to anything, and shall there for be ruled.
No. Instead, I shall tell you what I saw.

Having not really thought this far, I was surprised to find fear weaving between my ribs. I was afraid, afraid to open the window, like the Princess in the stories, who hears the marching footsteps in the street, keeping her shutters closed, so long that the world around her falls to dust. Maybe I'm better off not knowing. Maybe I can't take the truth, _handle_ it, as if it is something with sharp edges. Would Tarkin stand there, watching the flicker of color over my flesh, searching for the weakness called reaction? I held my breath, so long that, when he turned and walked away, I saw darkness shifting before my eyes. The storm troopers stood on either side of the threshold as the door closed, watching me, or at least appearing to. I think my hand trembled as I reached out for the activation switch-- I am no longer used to doing things for myself.
And also, it seemed to0 easy. There had to be more to it, one more hurdle to jump, one more pretentious sentence from the Admiral to endure.
But then there were images, leaping to life in front of me, and I had no thoughts for anything else. The opening of a government-run news program, probably the only kind there are, functional and plain. A story on shipping lanes between three different systems-- I watched the clip of spacecraft with something approaching wonder. Surely these things only existed in my mind, surely there was no world outside the many gray walls I've seen. Next, a view of Coruscant, which looks the same no matter what era it is, no matter who rules. The statues of Palpatine, robed like some underworld god, seemed so small as to only be smudges on the white surface.
I like thinking that way.

I watched with baited breath, all these things that would have bored me, or lulled me to sleep on the couch in my apartment. Did I once go where I pleased, when I pleased? Have a name other than the one your shadow has attached to me, love and work and get headaches that had nothing to do with loneliness and everything to do with the impossible traffic on Coruscant?
It seems impossible, now. Pure fiction, a fairy story.
And yet...

And yet all these things must have happened-- there must be something in the outside world I still strive to protect, because I held myself so still, because I swallowed my gasp of joy when I saw Leia.

I sat on my hands, so as not to reach out, to graze that translucent, little girl image and make the vid projector jump in protest. I told myself that no matter what, I must show nothing on my face, that it might be a trick, or else any show of emotion on my part might implicate her, might cause their gaze to linger on her over-long.
She is beautiful.
She IS. She is real and alive and-- thank you, Force-- present tense. Is.

She was dressed in long, burgundy robes, the golden embroidery too heavy and ornate for such a small girl. But she stood so tall, her hair pulled back away from her just-slightly-plump cheeks, she walked like a Queen with her small hand in Bail's. How long has it been? I lose time, I slip through the cracks, but there she was-- three, four, precocious and tottling on coltish feet. These years are not mine; to me, she is still a baby, still fitted neatly into the curve of my arm, in the shadow of my breast. These are stolen years, murdered years, and I should be thankful that she _lives_ but all I can think of is that she lives without me. Who braids her hair, who makes sure not too pull to hard on her thick locks? Who draws the quilts up around her, and banks the fire in her room? There are scrapes to be bandaged, baths to be given, kisses to be received. All of these things are not done by me. All of these things are dwindling, and she will grow up, all the chances for childhood gone. I watched her face as the announcer spouted something about House Organa paying their respects. So animated, so feeling, and far too like the images in my mother's vid-albums for my comfort. Time has washed me away from her, but it has left my face.

Of course, you know what comes next. You were there-- and you can not know the terror I felt then; so complete and real that, as much as I was sure I had known fear before, I hadn't truly until then. It owned me, this fright, as I watched Bail bent his knee to you briefly. I thought, 'Oh, Force, why show me _this_, of all things?' She would be given over to you, it would be as it was in my nightmares, and she would be your scrying mirror, a treasure in a tall glass tower.
A mother's fear is irrational, without polite restraint or understanding or timing. I knew only that, as in the stories of my youth, I would rage across the universe to find and be even with those who hurt my own. In that moment, it seemed possible.
And then; Leia curtsied awkwardly, turning to follow Bail back down the aisle. This was no giving over, no claiming of what was yours-- she slipped in and out like a shade. Except--

Except she paused, hand falling from Bail's hold, to look back at you, eyes wide, watching you. And you were watching her, I know; had been, the entire time, like a flame you couldn't keep your eyes off of. I could feel it on my skin, even through your mask. Sympathetic magic, again. What were you thinking, Ani? Were you rattling around, there in the endless confines of your armor? Did you think she was my ghost, come back to pull you down with me? Did you think she was Bail's daughter, but also my own? What did you see, written behind her child's eyes, before Bail reached and drew her hurriedly away?

She's right under your nose! She's not hidden safely at all, damn Obiwan, damn Bail and damn me. She flits on the edge of your world, and I don't see how you can't see it; that she is flesh of your flesh, blood of my blood. She sleeps in a stranger's house, calls another man father, bares another man's name. She is not yours, and you must know it.

But Ani, she is not mine either.
Not anymore.

[Chapter Six]