We're getting close to the end, here-- as a consequence, Padme's entries are getting longer, and farther in between. Because of this, I'm spilting up invidual entries in a way I haven't before. Hopefully the story will still flow well.
As always, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to read this. Comments make me squee so loudly that it registers with Seismic Research Centers. ^_^
Previous chapters of the story are all available in their revised form here.
And, without further babbling...
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
|27:00 hours; Night Shift|
There's a jump in my thoughts, a scrambling static. Like interference in the bluelight of a holo, I can feel it, though I do not necessarily know what it distorts. Above all, the sentient mind is about self-preservation; it will conceal, obscure, even cannibalize, if need be. I do not remember falling asleep, or even fainting. There is only the door closing over Tarkin's stiff back, and a dizziness that moved from my stomach outward, as if the axis of everything had been destroyed. When I woke, I was sprawled on the carpet, left arm twisted in an uncomfortable position. If I dreamed, the darkness 0f my mind swallowed it whole. My prison was the same; four walls, two doors, the bunk. And yet, in some fundamental way... everything had changed.
Is this madness? All the lines and angles are the same-- the unhelpful lamps, the bare rug. The change I sense is abstract and terrifying, and I don't know if it's real. Something has been exposed, and the universe feels different, as if some powerful wave has lifted me so gradually that I almost didn't notice. The danger I feel, pressing against my skin, seems laughable. After all, it would be more remarkable if I were safe, such is the flavor of my existence. If my mind is consuming itself then this danger-- real or imagined-- will very shortly leave me no place else to go.
Perception, Obiwan used to stress. No one sees reality for what it truly is. Doesn't matter if the danger is real or not-- your belief in it informs your actions, and thus your destiny. To see things without perception, to see bare reality, would drive any creature mad.
Unfeeling thief. No wonder he didn't believe in the truth.
The bare facts, as they say; the bare bones.
Down to the bone.
We're here, aren't we, then? The end of the line. I've gone 'round and 'round, but I keep ending up here. Gingerly, superstitiously, I lift the rough cloth of my dress and touch the wound on my abdomen. The scarred skin has an odd texture, like a lace of burns, but the color is faintly pink. Like the flesh of an infant, and that discomfits me. It seems too vulnerable. It's healed up since my fingers last attacked it-- there are new lines, more faint, where the original wound was enlarged. Layers of damage. I keep doing that, opening it up, as if to ensure no one left something inside of me. By mistake or design, I feel there is a shard of You resting alongside my organs. My body compensates-- grows around it, makes it a part of me. Whether this is a piece of the You That Was or the thing that animates your corpse now, I do not know. Should it be nurtured as a legacy, or is it a consuming rot?
The nails I have not broken off are long and untrimmed. I press the sharp point of my thumb into the center of the wound and begin to dig.
It is, as you well know, better to be safe than sorry.
I don't remember a lot about the hospital, about the white time before the gray prison. They said I almost died, but I didn't notice. It is possible I am still dead, and have not been informed.
I've been a bit out of the loop.
I shouldn't have to tell you this story-- after all, you were there. You know, better than I, what transpired.
But I will tell you, partly because my sense of completeness compels me, and partly because you may have witnessed something completely different. Obiwan has made me wary of the minds of others. That 'certain point of view'.
Also, this is revenge, of a sort. Dissecting each moment without mercy reminds me not to linger on wishes or dreams. Any comfort is dangerous, that much is certain. Who am I more enraged with-- the you that has done this to me, or my younger shadow, who allowed herself to be so intimately betrayed? So, some of this is about vengeance, though whom exactly this takes vengeance on, I am less and less certain.
Very well, then.
Bail begged me not to heed the Emperor's summons. To take Leia to Alderaan, or someplace even further, to run and never stop, if it came to that.
What was the use? I could not implicate Leia. Taking shelter at the Alderaanian Embassy was one thing, leaving with her was something else altogether. An odd sort of claim; it would bring scrutiny on her that even the most cleverly forged birth certificate would not withstand.
'Then you can leave alone,' he said. 'Come to Alderaan when the Emperor's basilisk eyes are elsewhere'. His voice echoes in my mind, at first almost brotherly, slightly pleading. There's a carefulness in these early conversations, as well, as if I were made of glass. Then, as days passed, his words grew sharper, more unwieldy. 'Do you want to die?' he'd ask me. And, as if he were backed into a corner and not I, he lashed out-- 'Would you have Leia motherless?'
He could not see that she already was. To him, claiming Breha as Leia's mother was a polite and necessary fiction. He could not see it for what it really was; an incantation gaining strength, becoming true over time. With practice.
I think about Leia-- not the soft infant I carried against my breast, but the fierce, beautiful little girl I saw on the holo-proj. The one with the stubborn set of my chin; the one who dared look back at You. I see her standing in an Inferisum, one of Alderaan's white marble cities for the Dead. There is a pyre before her, and a sealed stained-glass coffin upon it, in which rests the body of Breha Organa. The seal preserves her body; the blue hues of the glass obscure the emptiness of her shell, allowing the comforting illusion of Eternal Sleep. Leia will bring flowers and prayer wheels here, for burning. In time, she will beg for favors or forgiveness with a careful pen, giving the parchment to the fire, to send it on to the Land of the Dead. She will confide in Breha's still form her darkest secrets; she may even beg her to heal a broken heart. She will say 'Mother', and it will be this still, glass-coffin doll she sees.
I am not sure how I feel about that.
But Leia will never ask, 'why did Mother leave me?'. Breha died in childbirth, a fault attributed to no one, a miscellaneous evil, alighting where it may. She will not see my turned back, the trail of my veil and brocade, as I strode towards the Imperial Palace in the garb of a widowed Queen. She will never ask why I left her, that I might face the shadow of You. Moreover, she will not ask the truly dangerous question. Answers could be produced for the others, patched together from half-truths or manufactured wholesale. But what would there be for me to say if she came to me with her small hands to ask me why I married you? Worse still, not as a child, but as a young woman, no longer with the body of a sexless imp. In that ethereal young age between new emotion and the first wounded heart, she might ask the most damning question possible.
'He is a monster. Why did you let him touch you at all?'
I would be trapped then, with no other option but the truth. I would have to say the reason was love, and how could that stand in the face of all you've done?
Thank the Force for small mercies, you and Obiwan used to say.
Mercies. Small ones; ones you can hold in the palm of your hand, smuggle beneath your gown, hide beneath your ribs.
Concealed, and therefore easier to get away with.
Perhaps I should have concealed a weapon when I went before Palpatine, or attempted to conceal one. There seemed little point, though; he had already reached the heights of paranoia, those arid peaks only the most soulless of dictators come to know. A Sith, of all things; I think of him standing in the Theed Courtyard with that grandfatherly smile, and even now my heart warps with hatred.
'Be dead,' I thought at him, as the Red Guards ushered me down the long audience chamber. He was already small and crippled, the 'Almighty Emperor', eaten up from the inside out with the toxicity of his own power. I thought of Iratoth, the abandoned planet, the husk orbiting just a ways further out from Naboo's sun. Once, a race built towering spires there, chipped magnificent cities out of the sheer, rocky cliffs. What then? No one knows. There are only ruins now, saturated with radiation, glowing an eerie nightshade when the planet turns from the sun. A lifeless rock that killed even the Nubian explorers who discovered it. No less deadly now than it was all those centuries ago. Iratoth the Mute; Iratoth of carrion.
'Be dead,' I thought at Palpatine, whose only rightful kingdom was that wasteland of the damned. I shook with the force of it, my hateful wish. If he could deflect blasters and burst a Jedi's heart within their chest, then my only recourse was the old ways. Queens staining their breasts with blood of their enemies, riding into battle with every thought focused on death.
The Force is in me, but not of me. It does not bend to my will.
They brought me before him, and I would not yield. They threw me to the floor and I spat at his feet.
'Always such spirit,' Palpatine laughed, playing the grandfather again for one acidic, almost nostalgic moment. Beneath the cowl, his voice hardened; the voice of the patient snake, thinking only of itself and the eventual kill. 'You are beaten, Amidala. You have lost everything; you must know that you will die.'
'You do not reign in the Other Kingdom,' I said, crouching, finally rising when the guards moved back to their posts. 'I should be happy to die, and be free from your yoke.'
'Insolent sukevar!' he hissed, invoking an old Nubian word. A sukevar; a female warrior without allegiance, attacking the crown in a fruitless, suicidal show of defiance. A soldier who does not know when to lay down her arms. The Nubian term grated against me, inspiring more anger-- not for its meaning, but for the odd intimacy it suggested. I could not stand that this man, who had taken his first breath on my beloved Naboo, had also blackened her skies.
'You are a traitor in the worst way,' I spat. 'You should bleed to death on Nubian soil, so she can swallow you whole.' Another invocation of the past, an old curse said before impaling turncoats.
Palpatine laughed-- a gluttonous, oozing sound. 'That is what Apinala said.'
Poor Apinala. Blinded by Palpatine-- not metaphorically as I, but physically-- blackened sockets void and inarticulate as she was brought for execution. They hung her, and left her body swaying above the main gate to Theed. For five hundred years, Naboo knew no war. Palpatine brought merciless machines to the verdant fields. Worse still, he has brought back the taste of blood to walls that had forgotten it.
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