The Senator of Ryloth sneers lewdly. I grit my teeth, holding back thoughts, emotions, anger. No, I cannot chance an altercation. This measure must pass, if only for a pale remembrance for a dead republic.
Darth Vader stands there in the shadows; unspeaking, unmoving, just yet another guard, yet another living fixture of the Senate building. Bored? Annoyed? Both? – But then, why doesn’t he act on it? Why does he stand docilely there, while his reputation says otherwise?
Yet another motion for species equality within the Imperial military fails spectacularly. The motion to abolish any kind of slavery – the one-hundred-and-fifty-ninth of it since the formation of the Empire – preceded it in last month’s session. And worse, to date, nobody is willing to stick out their neck to support the proposal to stop the euthanasia of Force-sensitive babies.
“You look like Senator Amidala, this way, Leia,” Winter says. And deep in my heart, an unexplain patch of longing reopens: a raw, jagged, half-healed wound. I pirouette in front of the full-length mirror for her ease of mind, garbed in the only coloured senatorial dress I own. But my eyes never glance at it – at my reflection – myself. I do not need to.
Seen from the surface, Coruscant seems to swallow the galaxy whole. Even the nearest stars look dim and listless, as if their strength and light had been sapped by this greedy planet. I, human though I am, feel likewise. Cocooned by all these harsh, intruding lights, I long for darkness.
A new Senate committee, to oversee the funds and measures taken by the military: just something to appease the public, to soften the roughest edges in this galactical dictatorship. There are lots of things the committee won’t be allowed to get even a hint of in this lairful of traps, I bet.
Empire’s Day: Everyone is supposed to celebrate it, extravagantly if possible – if they want not to be suspected for rebellious tendencies, punishable by anything from some fine to summary execution. For this day, it’s also the custom for senators to give the topmost leaders of the ‘beloved’ empire great gifts, to express their gratitude and appreciation for the latters’ ‘leadership’ skills and ‘care’ for the galaxy. Well, I’ve got the best gifts for them, identical to a stitch; those suffocators, they deserve these humble little things.
“How much do you miss your homeworld, Princess?” Always, always the same question, the same remark, varying just in the manner of deliverance, diction and degree of interest; from the lewdest and greediest of senators, to the most caring of them, to one curious, intrepid supervisor of janitor droids. But why? I look young, I am young, I’m painfully aware of that; but… but…
“It’s unbecoming of a princess, my lady.” The guard is clearly flustered. I wave his well-meaning admonishment off with a smile and an absent twirl of a hydrospanner. After all, I have taken all discretion and precautions for this, and modifications in a speeder is allowed for a certain level anyway. Besides, I need this reprieve: tinkering with a spare airspeeder belonging to the Alderaanian Senatorial Household. I just… need it.
What makes a human human? I can’t help wondering, even as my legs – and something else – carry me ever faster; running, running, running, away from the loosed Rancor. Other people – visiting senators, ordinary civilians, storm troopers, zoo staff – are shrieking about sabotage, indirect assassination, extremist activity; but I don’t, I won’t, I can’t. Blood and adrenaline urge me onwards, egg me on to my body’s limit, and it’s familiar; but something else is roaring a river into my veins, giving me more energy, more awareness, more acuity. Other people fall behind me – crash, shriek, crack – but I don’t. – Am I human?
“No need to be uppity with me, girl.” The shopkeeper, warm and even chattery to other customers, glares and grumbles at me, as if insulted by my politeness. I glare back at him, irritated. Is this why the Household tries so much to forbid me from exploring the lower levels of Coruscant? But then, why is the shopkeeper smiling approvingly at my offended look now?
Winter stares wide-eyed at me. My hand trembles. The roughly rounded shape grasped in it, cooly metal, shakes as well. The tainted caffe gleams innocently inside, reflecting the light from the dining-room’s candelabra. The frantic shout of a guard is still resounding in the room, in my head, in my heart: “Don’t drink the caffe, Princess! The poison passed through our scanners. – Captain Neven died!”
The same day, the same routine, the same harsh, false scenery, the same verbose verbal dances, the same arguments, the same people, the same attempts to escape my own mind, the same nightmares, the same inability to change anything. What use am I, being here?
Water is a luxury on Coruscant. Then again, what is not a luxury here? Even life is a luxury, to so many. – But the bath-tub is so large, and I am alone… I can’t help it. I miss the seas and lakes on Alderaan so much. – Kriff, no, I miss water, lots of it, wherever it is.
So many filled pods, so many eager gestures, so many intricate words… So many lies. What is the Senate going to do with such abundance? Debate, of course; endless debates with little to no result produced. But then, everything in the universe always has two sides, no? We, senators, aren’t exempt from this basic rule. We’re so much… and yet so little.
Leia…” Winter groans, but I don’t pay her any heed. We’re safe, secluded in the garden patio of my senatorial apartment, so I don’t have to ‘behave’ this lunch. I’m fed up of all the masks and protocols and ugliness barely concealed behind all the beautiful looks and words, so I’ll create a unique, unmasked beauty for myself now. The gleaming, delicate-looking Alderaani snowdrop pattern in front of me begs to be decorated by all the available foodstuff, anyway. It’s big enough for my artistic endeavour, the familiar pattern soothes a little bit of my homesickness; and best of all, ceramic can’t talk or stare at you.
The sirens are wailing, and so are a great many sentients. Crackling heat is everywhere – oppressing, inciting, flaying – and the smell of burnt flesh permeates above it. The lounge room so close to the Alderaani area in the Senate building is now transformed into a riot of dancing yellow-orange-red, and someone’s baby girl is hidden under my senatorial gown for a meager protection against smoke and fire. But, all this time, I can’t help thinking: It’s all so familiar, somehow.
I can feel Winter’s disapproving eyes on me, and also those of some high-profile strangers passing through the main doors into the Senate building. Kriff, I can practically feel Papa’s disappointed look aimed at me all the way from Alderaan, since he must know by now what I’m doing. But who cares? Most people disregard the guards, so they’re made invisible; now, I’m made invisible too by default, since I’m half hidden behind their ranks. And ironically, I feel safe – no, safer.
Another poison in the Household’s foodstuff; another assassination case piled up before the last one is resolved; another grey hair for Papa and Mama, and maybe the new captain of guards for the Household too. And in answer? I grit my teeth, leave a brief note for my brief mission, and drag Winter with me to sneak into the Senate guards’ barracks. Everyone’s my responsibility, everyone’s hungry, and there’s a good spot of meal to be had in my target destination. Captain Red of the semi-retired clone troopers is a nice man, after all. He let me hide for so long in his ranks last time, when he was on duty in the Senate building, at any rate. He might be willing to feed me now.
Darth Vader stalks past, cape billowing almost theatrically. I raise an eyebrow mentally to the view, struck by a sudden curiosity. Who is the person behind the mask? Why equip the armour with a cape? How can a military commander be reportedly successful in each battle with that piece of garment always in the way? – And why’s Winter looking at me with such dread in her widened eyes like that, by the by?
The content of the semi-clean glass is lurid pink, with lurid orange bits floating in it like warped sparkly fish. It’s poisonous to health, doubtlessly; but, at least, it’s known, and I’m going to imbibe it semi willingly, in a dare with one of the off-duty clone troopers… who is also scowling at the same substance held in his own glass. Well, here’s a toast to whoever’s trying to poison me!
“Leia, you can’t…” Papa looks the most flustered that I’ve ever seen in my whole life. I give him my calmest, most clueless look in return, though I don’t think he buys it. He looks quite ready to come to Coruscant and bring me home by my ears. “Leia, they are… They are storm troopers!”
Senators Tahl’vehz and Vogge look ridiculous in their semi-military getups. With their insipid looks and round bellies, they seem to insult the military academy we’re visiting by wearing those, instead of respecting it and its members. I don’t like the military in general, but I don’t think it deserves to be mocked so. – Well, it’s a little bit of a turnaround, I admit, caused by the prize now folded and tucked into my senatorial gown, given by a particularly nice and gentlemanly cadet…
Winter’s look, directed square at me, seems to be caught between long-suffering and terrified. I flash her a beaming smile, but my attention is otherwise captured by the semi-wild Tooka purring at my feet, my acquaintance from the disastrous day in the zoo some time ago. She’s dangerous, her coat’s colouring isn’t quite appealing for many, but she’s perfect.
The two little children are practically skin over bone, also dirty, smelly and unkempt. I don’t know how they managed to infiltrate my Coruscant apartment’s kitchen, especially given their state, or why they did so, but it seems to be a trivial concern right now. The tiny girl and boy, arm in arm, have matching eyes, matching ggrins, matching tousled hair, and I find myself grinning back at them. They’re beautiful, together so; they’re perfectly beautiful, and my heart aches with inexplicable longing.
Papa’s blue-tinged hologram face looks far from his usual composed dignity: sickly palid, with his unusually expressive eyes comically wide. Winter – that unrepentent traitor – must have informed him about my latest anonymous poem sent to and featured in the Galactic Gazette. Well, but he’s the one to always encourage me to stick to the truth and speak my mind, no? He also disapproved of the enslavement of sentient beings, last we talked. So why the petrified look now?
No going anywhere outside of the apartment before and after the Senate sessions without “a good reason;” no elicit or semi-elicit transmission anywhere; no unapproved readings, especially those that might implicate me with any sort of crime if caught by the Empire; no greeting people warmly outside of the approved list of individuals, too. – I slump in my lounge-chair in the garden patio. A freaking-out Papa is much worse than the Empire.
The best – unpoisoned – ingredients, my best effort of following the recipe, concise and economical packaging whenever the Household and Winter aren’t looking, a deal with my two little thieving, infiltrating friends and my Tooka semi-pet, and here we are! A huge batch of treats for the clone-trooper barrack: a thank-you for a shared meal and camaraderie, an apology for my – enforced – seeming aloofness, and a promise to break all these ridiculous restrictions.
“This is divine,” I can’t help crowing, though in a low volume suitable to the refined establishment. Across the table, Senator Naberrie from Naboo laughs merrily, tinged with – in my opinion – fully justified satisfaction and pride. Nostalgic melancholy seems to shroud her, too, now, but for once I choose to be a little bit more selfish. The dish is from her native planet, costs a pretty sum of credits for its rarity and difficult preparation, but it tastes perfect.
“Can’t you choose a… better way for your physical exercises, Leia? What brought you to suddenly choose this, anyway?” Aunty Deara looks flabbergasted, almost speechless. Still garbed in my gear, I grin at her holographic representation. She – and everyone else – needn’t know of my reasons. I’m practically in a house arrest these few days, but it doesn’t mean I can’t still associate with my new friends in many ways.
“Leia… Shooting, now? And fencing, too?” Aunty Clora this time, just as I manage to hire a few more tutors, more than my extended family members have gotten wind of. I wonder when Papa and Mama will come in, and what they’re going to say or do to me. – Climbing, shooting, fencing, swimming, gymnastics, animal care, open-kitchen training – a little bit much, combined with my Senate duties, but I don’t mind. They’re a bit much, yes, but this way I get to always be outside the apartment. Nobody takes my freedom away.
The Emperor is making his way up the podium for his annual address to the Senate, trailed from afar by Darth Vader. They look quite the contrast: an elderly statesman and a much younger military chief. But deep in my heart, something whispers to me to be aware, to be wary. Emperor Palpatine is much more dangerous than his right hand is, despite all news and visual evidence.
Hidden in between the leaves of a few rearranged bushy potted plants, for anonymity as well as safety, I’m rather comfortably seated on the floor of a balcony overlooking the public entrance of the Senate building. Far below, a steady stream of petitioners, reporters and many other people trickles up the long, arduous way towards the main gates, looking like a parade of ants. – So lofty, so hard to reach, more daunting and less beautiful than a tall mountain of rocks. – Senators are supposed to be representatives of the people, but here we are, putting a thousand stairs right in front, where it is supposed to be welcoming…
…No, it’s not, or so the other senators claim. A much more refined establishment than a common cantina, they say, with much more respectable brews; two aspects that make everything in here ridiculously expensive. Eh, I would like to argue against it, strongly. I could find the same brews, with far more reasonable prices, in a much friendlier environment, elsewhere. I won’t spend the people’s money just for a drink, that way. If only I could just go…
I wouldn’t believe it myself, before today, that a far overpriced drink – of all things – would be the last hit that would knock the virtual wall of my obedience down. I’m supposed to attend the last session of the open-kitchen training today, an event that will be attended by Papa and Mama, but I just… can’t. Now I’m ensconced in a back-alley near the Senate guards’ barracks with the pair of little scamps I’ve befriended days ago, and my life can’t be happier. Because, on the sight of me, a radiant smile’s burst on each of their dirty, haggard little faces. Simple, genuine, heartfelt.