Title: A Clean Sweep
Disclaimer: Not my characters, well most of them, and not my universe.
Summary: One of the Imperial Palaces housekeeping staff has an interesting past.
Setting: After Return of the Jedi. The New Republic now controls Coruscant.
Warning: Nothing graphic, but some mature themes
The small white interrogation room smelled of new paint and old fear. A pair of metal chairs faced each other across a metal table, all three bolted to the floor. A man sat in the chair on the far side of the table in some kind of Republic Uniform. Mira couldn't read the insignias the way she could the old Imperial ones, but she'd guess a captain. He was in his thirties with raven black hair and grey eyes that showed strain that came from staring at too many datapads. He had one in his hand now, and glanced up from it at her.
"You are Mira Silent?"
Mira nodded a little, her voice soft and meek as she said, "I am..."
She knew what he saw when he looked at her... A plain woman his age with brown hair and eyes, mousy and dull. She looked like someone's mother or a schoolteacher, except for the restraints on her hands and the bruise discoloring the left side of her face.
The Captain nodded in the direction of her bruise, his eyes sharp and suspicious.
"How did that happen?"
Mira shook her head, "It doesn't matter... please, sir. You say anything... and perhaps I fall on my way back to the cell. Or there is a mixup, and I get put in the common holding cell and the guards go for a kaf break." She looked down at her hands, knowing it could happen too easily. Brought in just for questioning, there was no guarantee she'd ever make it home to her daughter again. Having broken no law was no protection. "I don't go looking for trouble."
His tone was one of boredom. Mira supposed it was better than anger.
She looked up at him again, watching him warily.
"Housecleaning staff at the Heritage Hotel... Formerly at the Imperial palace."
The Captain's look was tinged faintly with disgust now, though Mira couldn't say why.
"And do you know why you're here?"
"Because I cleaned for Lord Vader."
The Captain's head snapped up at that, and Mira tried very hard not to smile.
"He was a man, Captain... not a demon summoned from a magic ring. He had rooms in the palace, and since they didn't use cleaning droids, someone had to clean them. Normally the duty was rotated around, because he had so many girls dismissed. But it came to be mine alone."
The Captain was interested now, taking notes.
"And how did it come to be your duty?"
Mira gave a tired little smile.
It had seemed like that at the time. The housekeeping staff had been lined up for their assignments when the eyes of Darj Trall fell on her.
"You. You will clean Lord Vader's quarters today. Press your palm here."
He had held out the pad to her, and she could feel everyone drawing away from her subtly. She told herself it would be ok, as she pressed her had to the cold surface of the pad, letting it scan her. Tomorrow, if she came back, everyone would pretend today hadn't happened. It would be some other girl's turn.
Moving through the silent back corridors of the palace, she couldn't help but shiver. Her time would happen when Vader was in residence. The corridors were poorly lit, plain, threadbare. But only a drunk noble stumbling on them would mistake them for secret passages. There were palm scanners at each door into the palace proper. Security cameras everywhere. No, these corridors weren't secret... they were where the other half of the palace life happened. The cooking, cleaning, working, dirty half that the nobles didn't want to see. Mira stopped at the correct door. Maybe when she put her palm to the door, it wouldn't open. If Vader was in his quarters, it wouldn't open.
The door opened.
Quickly, eyes lowered and posture submissive in case any courtiers should happen by, she scurried through the short length of opulent hall and put her hand to the datapad in front of Vader's door. It too, opened.
She knew what to expect from the other cleaning girls, and no matter how old you were, you were still a 'girl'. The outer room was an office. Stark, white, sterile. Smooth walls, smooth floor, smooth desk. Only one chair. She moved to a section of the wall and a panel opened revealing a small closet full of cleaning supplies. Neat piles of white rags. A bag for their disposal. Neat rows of white cleaning supply bottles.
Mira took the time to read the labels. Some cleaning supplies could be dangerous if mixed together. Even fatal. None of these chemicals had those warnings... in fact, they were safer than most cleaning chemicals, no warnings about well ventilated rooms, those with respiratory ailments, etc... They struck her as the kind of chemicals used for cleaning hospital rooms. So that much was true as well. She pressed her hand to the inner doorway, and learned what sterile really meant.
A white room. A black sphere inside, open now, revealing a white interior and a black chair. She felt dizzy as she stepped inside. Something about the air. Made it hard to think, but she didn't have to think. She had to clean. Moving to hands and knees she dampened one rag with the cleaning chemical, and wiped a spot at the foot of the chair with a section of the rag's edge. It came away with a thin streak of grey. She folded it over. She wiped with the dry rag. A faint hint of dust? She folded it over. Again. Wet. Again. Dry. Both came away clean. She moved to the next section.
Wipe. Wipe. Again.
Time fell away in meaningless repetition. She didn't count the number of swipes. The number of times she got up to replace rags with clean ones. Getting up was an illusionary relief, it let muscles stretch, gave her a feeling of progress. But it meant moving between the different air in the two chambers, and losing whatever adjustment to the strange air she had gained.
Dizzily she thought that sterilization droids could have done this... faster. Better. But droids, they said, could be reprogrammed. Humans you had the culprit at hand if something went wrong. And you couldn't fire a droid. Couldn't sneer at them as you swished by in fabrics that cost more than she would see in her entire life. It didn't matter. You did your best, like countless other girls had done. And when Lord Vader was displeased, you'd be fired as well. Tossed out to sink down into the depths.
She lost all track of time. Progress was measured first by inches of chair. Then by feet of wall. Of that strange sphere.
It felt odd to finally stand in the doorway, to wipe in the crevices of it first shut, then open and then.... pass through. A final time. To be able to breath normal air and not have to go back in. But... She had an entire second room to clean.
She wasn't but half way done with the left wall when the door opened and she heard that sound... the heavy, mechanical, rasping, clicking, breathing sound that was discussed beneath the palace in hushed, terrified whispers. She was already on her hands and knees... a thin rim of dust or dirt was embedded where the white walls met the white floor creating a faint line. Behind her, where she had cleaned, they almost seemed to flow one into the other. She froze in terror, unable to move, feeling his gaze on her on the top of her head, boring through the dull cloth over her dull hair and into her dull soul. She froze, waiting for a single word to release her, to let her go scurrying out the door.
He said nothing. The heavy tread of his feet passed nowhere near her, heading straight for the door to the inner chamber. It opened. He passed inside.
The door did not close. She waited, her terror growing into numbness. She was no one, nothing. A small room far beneath the palace, not even an apartment, that would be filled by another girl. A wage chit too small to ever go elsewhere, do anything else. But they fed you, and you worked, and were better off than most. Until the day that your number came up and you crouched, waiting for a door to close.
The footfalls came back again. Stopping just inside the outer room. She knew that without looking. She hadn't looked up the entire time, hadn't caught so much as a glimpse of a black boot. What would it matter? She didn't know him. All she knew was how to clean.
The word fell like thunder, like nightfall, like violence against her ears. His voice was everything they whispered. Powerful. Terrible. His footfalls moved back into that inner room. The door closed.
Mira trembled, and continued her slow progress along the left wall.
The next morning she was more sore than she could remember being in a long time. But there was no message firing her. No one opening the door to haul herself and her few belongings out. Mira reported to the servants hall, lining up with the others. She probably looked as bad as she felt, because she got a few sympathetic looks and smiles from the other girls. Trall stopped before her again, and her heart grew cold. Not two days in a row...
"Lord Vader has requested that you be assigned to him personally. You will clean his quarters every day when he is in the palace, twice a week when he is not."
Mira could feel everyone pulling away from her. This time, for good. Noooo...
"Just... bad luck. My number came up a day when he was in residence. The work I did was up to some standard of his. And I lost my friends."
"And why was that?"
The Captain scrolled through something on his datapad as he listened.
"Fear of Lord Vader. Everyone was afraid of him, and anything that might attract his attention. Death followed in his shadow, people believed. And who can say they were wrong?"
She sighed softly. They weren't wrong really... plenty of people died around Vader. It was the idea of Vader himself being dead that seemed unreal.
The Captain read one of the the accusations with apparent disbelief, "They say you made Vader kill a man."
Mira didn't have to fake her shock.
"How... How could a cleaning girl make Lord Vader do anything? Who did they say..."
She felt a thrill of fear at old memories
"Someone named Darj Trall," the Captain paused as Mira nodded to that. "You knew him."
Mira tried not to sag with relief, "He was in charge of the cleaning staff... If Lord Vader killed him, it was for disobeying orders."
She shouldn't have been in the hallway at all. Darj Trall initially had let her have off the days when she wasn't cleaning Vader's rooms, a sweet luxury that words alone couldn't explain. But then he had declared that if you didn't work, you didn't eat... the rooms they were given were just that, a single tiny room smaller than a noble's closet, with no kitchen if she had had enough money to buy food. So instead of being curled up in her tiny room, watching late night vids on the educational channel, she had been sweeping the floors in one of the Ambassadorial wings. She scurried out of the way, curtsying deeply, when a drunk courtier came by.
The first blow seemed to come out of nowhere. Her first thought was that she hadn't gotten out of the way fast enough, curtsied deep enough. The second blow cracked her head against the cold marble floors, making her dizzy and nauseated. Then he started tearing at her clothes. She fought, gods help her she fought, though that was the worst thing everyone said that you could do, it only made them hurt you more. And palace security would never help a cleaning girl. No one would....
She heard the hum first. Perhaps it was because of the blow to her head, perhaps it was because she was certain there was no chance of hearing those footfalls, that mechanical breathing. There had been no word below about the Executor being in dock. But afterwards, she always was certain she had heard the hum first as a sword of red light cut through her assailant, slicing him in half.
Mira tried to pull her clothing together, tears blurring her vision... or was it the blow to her head? She kept her head down, trying not to throw up as she pulled herself up into a proper kneeling position. Now security people appeared at the end of the hall, but Lord Vader waved them off.
"Why are you here?"
Even with the mechanical distortion, the rage in his voice was obvious.
"Darj Trall's orders..." Mira could tell her voice was squeaking with fear. Lord Vader had never spoken to her beyond 'continue' or 'go'. And she had never dared to address him. "... If you don't work, you don't eat. He ordered me to clean this hall. I did not know I was supposed to do otherwise, Lord."
She knelt there, swaying a little, and kept her eyes fastened just below his knees. The only thing else to look at was the corpse of her assailant. The sound of that breathing filled her head, and she just... waited. If she died now... at least she had an escort on her way to hell.
"Your only orders now come from me." The humming stopped, the sword of light vanished. "Leave. Go see a medic."
Tears of gratitude flooded her eyes, "Yes, my Lord."
She moved to her feet, the room swimming. Vader made no move, simply... watching as she bowed and fled the hall.
Mira dropped the Captain's gaze.
"Vader had ordered I be assigned exclusively to his rooms. I did not know this, and Trall ignored it. He had me cleaning in the Ambassadorial wing one night and I was... assaulted. It... It happened to a lot of girls. The rule of law meant nothing under Palpatine. Early... early the next year, my daughter was born."
It was all she could do to hold herself together, the memories of what had happened back then, what was happening now. When Mira looked up again, her eyes were bright and her eyelashes wet.
"She's my angel. My proof that you can find some good in the bad if you try hard enough... She's almost six now... When they dragged me away, they hit her. I yelled at her to run for the neighbors... I don't even know if she's alright. The Republic was supposed to change things..."
Nothing really changed though, not down at the bottom.
"Ma'am... Ma'am, they are changing, but we have to take every reported threat seriously. I'll have someone... no, I'll take you back to your cell and see what I can do about processing your release."
Mira just nodded meekly. She was sure there were good men in the Republic... there had been good men in the Empire. But that didn't mean that innocent people didn't get hurt. And she knew that none of them would agree on who one of those good men had been.
Mira's heart was cold as she unlocked the door to her apartment, she had finally been released... but there was no answer at the neighbor's door.
"Baby? Are you in here? Are you alright?"
A few pieces of furniture appeared broken, but none of that mattered compared to...
A blond haired bundle of frightened energy in the form of a five year old girl hit her legs and clung tightly. Huge blue eyes gazed up at her over a tiny snub nose.
"Are you all right? I was scared... they said you might not come back... They started calling you names and I ran..."
Mira knelt down to hug her daughter quickly.
"I'm all right baby, but it's not safe here."
She carried her daughter into the tiny bedroom and sat her on the bed. Snagging a carrisak she shoved clothes for the two of them into it as quickly as possible.
Her heart broke as she heard her daughter's wail of protest, "But they our neighbors... why do they want to hurt us?"
Mira shoved the battered dresser away from the wall, and removed the air vent cover. Thankfully, there hadn't been a real search. She reached inside, and removed the narrow stone box she had hidden there.
"People fear those who are different, Anni... And they hurt those that are weaker."
Such a sad birthright to leave to her only child, her angel. She shoved the box into the carrisak and picked up her daughter, bolting for the door. Once on the street they could vanish into the crowds, try to find a way off Coruscant...
Troubled blue eyes looked up at her, "Then I don't want to be weak, Momma. I want to be strong."
Her father's eyes.
"Someday, Anni... you will be."