by Meredith Bronwen Mallory

| 10:00 hours, 2nd Valaehan |

I woke late this morning. The sun, bright and magnified by the ivory towers of Coruscant streamed through the narrow windows of our apartment, falling over my half-nude body like a second blanket. It was not the warmth that woke me, but your muttered cursing. I rolled over, feeling my braid-- which you had only half-undone the night before-- trail behind me.
"Anakin?" I asked softly, stretching. You turned and smiled at me, so fondly, watching the movements of myself and my shadow on the bed. 'When you first wake up, you stretch like a nikki,' you told me once. A nikki-- for me, a name with no reference. To you, a mammal, imported to Tatooine by the wives of rich lords who had nothing better to do. Slim and soft, none of them lasted long on your desert world, but you saw one, once, when you were sold to Gardola the Hutt. You came closer to the bed, touched your real hand to my cheek, trailed it down my neck.
"I overslept," you said, rolling your shoulders. So like a little boy, with your hair falling in your face, it was easy to forgive you anything. "Obiwan will be expecting me back at the Temple, soon."
"Like that?" I asked, smiling, gesturing to your bare chest and half-done trousers. Pulling my light, sheer robe off the bedpost, I began moving with you, sorting through the clothes we shed the night before. We laughed, your robes decadently strewn beside my stockings, my under shift draped across a chair.

I think about that, now-- in the real now, which is not muddled by my memories and my traitorous sleeping mind. Here is the room aboard 'The Unquestioned Command', with its small rug, and two lamps. Here is the twenty-two steps I can take, toe to heel, before I come to the wall, and am forced to turn back again. Our apartment on Coruscant was perhaps only twice this size-- I paid for it myself, under another name, as neither of us could be seen too much in one another's official rooms. It was just a small main room, with a squat, Alderaanian style flat-stove, and-- behind our meager low couch and table-- the sliding screened door to the bedroom. It was cream, I remember, far bigger than the other room, with a dresser and night stand where we stored the few things we left there permanently. Your ship models, my Nubian watercolors, the presents you brought me, like clockwork, from your travels. Small tokens we bought together. We would leave the little stove on in the other room, to help with the heat-- the light would come in through the deep, pink silk panels of the screen, fall over the floor like translucent flower petals, or else the wings of starflies, shed in the spring. The existence of this room was a puzzle to me; it was ours, and it was evidence. Damning for the piles of extra clothes laid side by side in the drawers, for our brushes and combs, hanging next to the sink. Our makeshift fresher. His and Hers, Yours and Mine. Each time I opened the door, my throat closed with irrational fear, certain that this time there would be disapproving faces clustered in the small space, frowning.
"How could you?" they would say. As if I had defied some law of gravity, breached some terrible barrier. It would be ugly and crass, like the holo-news stories I so loathed as a girl; a young couple run off together, a lady arriving for a rendezvous with her lover, only to take the fall. That's what it would be-- a fall, an endless one, where you stomach goes down and down. They would look at me, measure me. "How could you?"
How would I tell them that it was not a matter of 'could'?
We just did.

Did we really once undress each other, laughing, sighing, toss our marks of status away without heed? Did I love you, sleep beside you, and hear only the hum of the stove and your sweet, uneven breath? Tell me I'm making up stories! Tell me I'm lying. I try to imagine you, imagine my body being touched by someone other than me. It always seemed as if you were slipping your fingers under my skin, layer by layer, reaching for something vague and indefinite within. I'd put my hands in your hair, when you were permitted to grow it into the mane of a Knight, hold onto both of your hands.
It doesn't seem real.

Every now and again, you would sleep in my bed, in the quarters attached to my senatorial office; I would lay there, on nights you were away, and be able to conjure you there. I had a picture in my mind; you had been there, it was possible, if unlikely.
Could you see me, as easily, in your narrow ship's bunk or worn bedroll? Lovers thrive on small space-- hip to hip, nose to nose. You never moved far from me in your sleep, anyway. Or was I an anachronism, something out of place with the life you lived on assignments, where you fell asleep-- as you told me-- to Obiwan's long snores? Sometimes, during midday break, I would stare at the monolith of the temple, towering just beyond the Senate building. Those gates were closed to me, to anyone outside the tight-walled Jedi ranks.
Somewhere between those thick, myriad columns, you lived a life discussed only academically, in books full of theory and philosophic lore. I imagined you as I had first met you, small and determined, like a colt convinced of its racing breed. Something changed you, something lived there; thousands of Jedi, voices echoing down from the past. A changeless, stable world.
Now, of course, it has been rent in two.

Most nights, I dream I am wandering through those endless, foreign hallways, like a single stone riddled through by determined insects. I run, the hiss of your breath at my heels, in my heart, until it is as if the whole building is breathing. Crouched in small spaces, I escape you only by narrow margin, again and again. Weak and trembling, I wonder why it is you always find me-- I grasp at my breast, as if to slow my heart beat by hand, and find instead the japor snippet.
It is as bright as a star, radiant with it's own light; it is a beacon that ties me to you.

I wake, and am annoyed with my subconscious for being so obvious.

| 22:00 hours, 6th of Valaehan |

Does time move? Today, after my shower, I sat on the still-warm bathroom tile and stared at the clock on the wall. A small one, up near the corner, with a purely functional holo display. Spartan as the rest of the chamber, but also somehow superfluous-- it included seconds as well as minutes and hours. Numbers changing, clicking, on and on and on, like the simplest of math tables.
One plus one is...
One times one is...
One split by one is...
One doesn't make all that much of a difference, does it?

I deal in contradictions these days, like a festival woman in her bright, billowing garb, gesturing to all manner of things. I was looking at the clock, but I don't know how much time passed. Instead, I was thinking about seconds, about them ticking by, tiny microbes too small for hands to hold. They slip through. Does time move? It must. Days pass, the clock changes. My hair is just past my shoulders, wavy, like the mane of some wild creature. We had those on Coruscant, remember? Nothing native, of course-- just escaped exotic pets, the one or two heads that might be missing from a herd shipment. They were manic and trustless, these animals. You could see that they'd been chewing on wires, nosing around in refuse no sentient being would touch. Little beggars, tiny madmen. Nothing like the great, lumbering beasts of your desert home, or the graceful, amphibious beings of mine. On Coruscant, they became wild in a way that wasn't natural, you could see it in their eyes. Like a fire back there, burning, all the wrong color. I look like that, I think, in the mirror-- some underworld waif, or a shade of Days Gone By. Capital letters, same as you do for wars and great changes. That, too, is time-- great chunks of it, like gray sunblasted rock, flaking off in your hands.
I lay in my bunk, drifting in and out of sleep; I sit on the antiseptic bathroom tile and watch the numbers, such talented contortionists, shape and reshape.
At least, until my white-skulled guardian raps on the door and asks me what's taking so long.
When I figure it out, you'll be the first to know.

|15:00 hours, Day Shift|

My hands ache. Holding them over these crowded keys, I flex them, watch the movements of bone and sinew, the rounded knuckles and narrow finger tips. The body has its own memory, and the act of typing is not enough for my hands. They miss work, they miss _purpose_; whether their task was my own or the will of some other, uncaring force. They miss the orchards-- the small, vicious bite of thorns, the feel of fruit ripe and unbroken in my palm. I study the right one, pinching the callus where my caligripen used to rest, so many years that it wore into the skin. Childish practice, essays, reports-- drafts of proposals, my royal signature.
Letters to you.

There is nothing for my hands but these crystalline keys; nothing for them to do but pour out words which will eventually betray me. There is nothing for me to _do_, Ani-- and we both know that has a purpose.

I've lost track of time again, a failure that tastes bitter in my mouth. The after taste stings, leaves me biting my lip bloody just to feel something else. I think I am going to die here, in this room, and I think Tarkin is going to watch.

I study the faintest changes of dye in my single oval rug, follow the twists of cheap, spartan fiber until it seems a maze in which one can become dizzy and lost. I feel along the walls for seams in the metal, in the pannels from which the glow-lamps emerge. I stick my lengthening fingernails into the few screws that can be found. Turn them 'til the nails break, and I bleed.

I have so far refrained from making patterns in the sparse red liquid, though I've been tempted. I try to hold myself above certain levels of pointlessness.

Re-qualify: there is nothing to do here _but_. How my mother disliked that word-- as children, she lectured Sola and I. 'Never say 'but', it offers an excuse'. There's always a way around things. However. There's nothing to do here but entertain Tarkin; or, that is how he intents it. Even if he knew, I doubt he'd consider my obsessive, minute explorations of any value. And there's another word to handle carefully, gingerly, as if it might cut: "entertain". Not in the polite social sense-- though Tarkin maintains a veneer of this-- but in the most stark, the most banal. Blood sport and torn flesh. His bows and carefully measured words hide nothing. To him, I am a small animal trapped in a jar; each languishing moment to be recorded (perhaps relished?) and examined. Careful notations of organs shutting down, dementia setting in.
Empathy simply does not enter into the equation.

I am down to one meal a day; tasteless, semi-firm molds of smooth grain noodle, which I often devour before I truly register I've taken it in my hands. Smooth as it is, it sticks in my throat, tastes as bland and unhelpful as the room around me. Time passes, and I lay on the floor, drawing my knees up to my breasts to ease the ache in my gut. Old wounds on the outside, new ones within. My body is consuming itself.

I allow no one to see this-- not the officer who brings my barren tray, not the stormtrooper who guards the fresher when I bathe. Most assuredly not Tarkin, who always inquires if I am well, if there is anything he can do for me. He circles in closer, ever the arachnid, and sometimes I think I see the black, metallic clattering of deathwatch beetles skittering behind his eyes. Always a courteous voice, little inflection, a sort of endless monotone as I struggle to hold my back straight, to remain still as the stone I feel my bones are petrifying to.
'Do you want for anything, Lady Vader?'
I always say no. He wants me to ask; for food, for mercy. I lay in my bunk and examine the situation academically. Whether he would give either upon request is immaterial-- he wants to me to ask, and so I will not. He works away at me like the blackest sea against the cliffs; unhurried, patient. I struggle to give him no appreciable sign of decay, I hold my head up and pray my strength will hold out until he leaves. And he always does, his officer's smile twisting, his hands digging at each other behind his back. He turns on his heel, his farewell curt and staccato, and the tray that comes eventually always contains a little less. On Naboo, the southern farmers annually faced a growing population of hafe-ah-- small, silver mammals that burrow into the shallow pools where lotus-bread grows. One end of a pack's tunnel would lead to the forrest, the other to wetlands, sometimes directly to a particular pond. Long ago-- before there where droids to herd the hafe-ah away, or breeders to control the population-- farmers dropped bundles of burning leaves into each tunnel, and lay in wait for the nervous, whisker-twitching refugees.
I will not be smoked out.

I am so hungry, Ani. You just can't know.

Again, my mother's voice comes to me-- 'it can always get so much worse', she whispers, her body sheltering those of Sola and myself in the dusty cold of our city apartment. I never understood that; her cynicism, her bleak expectation in the face of both plenty and strife. Comparatively, those years in our tiny, desperately echoing apartment were few; the fault of famine, not lack of hard work on anyone's part. Finite, those nights of cold and faint hunger; the days of selling davi' fruit in the snow-dusted city streets. We had many more years,-- decades-- of comfort and stability on the farm; lazy seasons of security shot through, like veins of marble, with happiness, with real joy. And yet, my mother never wavered-- even lit with pleasure, her eyes always flickered to the corners and doorways, watchful against shadowy intruders. Hungry ghosts. 'It can always get worse'-- etched into the very lines of her silhouette. 'So much worse, darling, so be prepared.' And it's true now, even if I never understood her then-- it hasn't been that long, and my body is just beginning to show true signs of the gnawing it commits within. I force myself to break off small pieces of noodle-paddie, hiding them under the mattress. I would give so much to eat them, to eat them all now, but who knows? There may come a day when these browning bars of noodle look a feast to me. When I look back on them with fondness and longing.

Oh Queens, oh Force, this will be a slow death for me.

'But,' says a small voice in my mind.
But what? I move in concentric circles, like the mysterious ebony grave wheels of the ancients, down towards a center no one can understand. My hands ache, my mind weaves like the hafe-ah, craving tunnels with no pattern, no sense. You come to me, so small and determined-- the warmth of Tatooine is on your skin. 'I am not a slave', you say. 'And neither are you.' Your hand is so small on my brow. Did I really once dance with you by the great bonfire on Bonta Eve, those boyish palms against my own?

I will eat my own flesh before I ask anything of Tarkin, before I give anything but the coldest, most distant response. That is certain, immutable; and so are the consequences of such. I am going to die, Ani.
But. However.

Not my mother's voice now, but some humorless schoolteacher:
'There is no 'however' to be had.'

[to be continued...]