This story needs to be massively revised. It's been written and completed, but some of the writing is much better in places than others. I hate to place upon readers a burden, or to cause any kind of suffering among you--but please, be frank with your comments, should you have them, so that I can revise the story and offer you a more pleasant read.
And with that, let's begin.
His breathing frightens her.
Leia stands in her father’s shadow and hides from the noise. She is small enough to disappear behind her father’s soft broad cloak, but somehow she knows that Vader still sees her. He is interested in her, she knows. He is more interested in her than in what he is saying.
--Something dull, for his voice is flat and disinterested, but Leia has learned that Vader’s voice always sounds that way. He never says what he thinks—never really. She feels a sudden urge to peek from behind her father and look at his face (the fascinating mask) but shyness and fear, fear that he will take greater interest in her, even look at her, melt her feet into heavy lumps. She shivers. She feels cold, numb even, frightened by herself, and longs to throw herself in her father’s cloak, where it is warm and familiar.
The time goes slowly, and Leia’s fear thaws into impatience. Her father speaks loftily and in long, complicated sentences that she does not understand, almost as if he hopes Vader will be dizzied by the brilliant show. She is suddenly restless with curiosity to see Vader’s face, his posture, his reaction to the words she cannot follow--but keeps her place. A wave of stubborn and sullen feeling descends on her head. It is obvious that his face is a mask and cannot possibly reveal his emotions, but she still wants to know what he’s thinking—and yet if he sees her she will be disappointed, for she will have broken a secret pact within herself, a secret treaty that reads, I WILL NOT BE SEEN. She lifts her foot and stamps it down, unhappy to be standing still, unhappy to be moving. Her father swiftly raises a hand in warning, and she glares hatefully, her head aching with thinking.
Vader isn’t even speaking anymore.
She feels his curiosity, his interest. It settles on her like a net; she struggles to shake free. Surprisingly, he withdraws at once.
“This conversation should be continued with the ambassador,” Vader says. “He is waiting for you at the embassy.”
“I will accompany you,” Vader says. Leia is listening as if in a dream, but she surfaces when it strikes her—like a crash, the crash of her father’s datapads when she tried to stack them into shapes; she has not forgotten his angry voice—that Vader sounds almost satisfied. Grim, though—
She hears Vader’s breathing change directions, and then her father begins to move. He turns slightly, expecting her to walk at his side. She stumbles into his pace, glancing once with wide eyes at the Stormtroopers and puzzling at their ugly blank helmets, becoming so repulsed that she almost reaches for her father’s hand. (But, she remembers with a sting, he would not hold her hand in public.) She looks at the cracked ground—the landing pad is older than she is, and shudders slightly in the warm afternoon as aircars speed overhead and unseen below; Leia is afraid its floating mechanism will break and of falling three-hundred storeys to the ground. She feels a flutter of fear at its trembling, at the powerful whoosh of a passing car, and is drawn to the shuttle by its solid reassurance. Vader strides before them, his black cape rippling at the bottom. Leia cowers slightly, afraid and fascinated. The galaxy is filled with strange creatures, and Leia is used to them, but Vader is not like any of them. She is shocked by his immense size, terrified by the gleaming helmet, and yet secretly excited by his presence. He finds her interesting. Somehow that pleases her. She is not really afraid of Vader, despite his horrible deep voice and the rasped breaths that, like a black hole, could suck up a row of aircars, she imagines.
Vader waits for them at the ramp. Her father does not acknowledge him as they pass him by. Leia stomps up the ramp, afraid of slipping off and convinced that stomping will make her feet stick closer to the ramp. She feels Vader’s gaze on her back, but does not turn to look at him. Her father ducks through the door and seats himself in the single row behind the cockpit. He turns and looks at her expectantly; feeling a flicker of annoyance (she has never liked her father) she controls the scowl on her face and sits next to him. The air between them crackles with resentment; both of them know that Leia is not sitting as close to him as she could be. Her father sits very still, and his face displays nothing, but Leia can see burning anger in his eyes.
(Years later, when Alderaan was destroyed and her father with it, she would remember that look.)
Vader passes them—so quickly that his speed rushes over her velvet shoes and ruffles her father’s cloak—and enters the cockpit. He speaks to the pilot. Leia frowns at her knees. Her blood is strangely thrilled by Vader’s nearness. She is nervous, excited; heat radiates from her cheeks. Vader steps out of the cockpit. His breathing is muffled by the small cabin. He leans against the window, which is covered by the shuttle’s folded wing, and gazes out as the shuttle lifts—huge gulps of power surge to the wings so they peel away from the window and point at an angle toward the ground. Light fills the cabin as the wing moves away, light narrowed into straight rays by the transparisteel that dances over her hands and knees. Shining starscrapers glint in the sun like a drawer filled with pearls and lined with the clouds.
Leia raises her eyes and looks at him.
Her father is distracted in his thoughts; if he notices the direction of her gaze, he either does not care or does not think it wise to say anything. Leia ignores him. Her eyes widen with a mixture of fear and delight (there is something delicious about watching the person her father hates most, something wonderfully liberating) when she sees the lightsaber on Vader’s belt. She wants terribly to touch it. She wants him to show interest in her again. She vaguely remembers his net, but because he lifted it so quickly the last time she thinks it must be easy to escape nets in general. It is, in her mind, a rather good game.
But Vader does not move, or cast his thoughts in her direction—he is, Leia finds, icy and brooding. Disappointed, she cranes her neck toward the opposite window and, seeing a semi-interesting view, stands up restlessly and—her father is displeased, and shifts in his seat to convey his feeling—mimics Vader by leaning against the window. The glass is warm; her breath fogs up on it. She rubs her finger in the fog and clears a spot. Through streaks in the glass she sees blurry lines of traffic weaving through the starscrapers, landing on pads, delicate cam droids lingering at office windows; she becomes aware of her missing seatbelt as the shuttle cuts through an airlane. Warm sun streaks through the window and reflects off the buildings, making them difficult to look at.
A metallic flash from the Depths—probably one of the gigantic sunmirrors that direct light into its upper levels—catches her eye, and she looks down. The depths of the city, its bottom, cut a dark line between the starscrapers—black, narrow, destitute and unfamiliar. Most of Imperial Centre was destroyed by war, and only parts have been rebuilt. The devastated Temple District still forms a ragged backdrop to the Senate; shelled husks of factories and jagged, smashed starscrapers make enormous shadows at night, frightful shadows that terrified her only last year. In the Depths themselves most of the levels are uninhabitable; others teem with life: rodents and lice in the rubbish, bounty hunters, women that paint themselves for money. Many apartments have caught fire; desperate survivors keep piling into the same places. Some apartments, Leia knows, contain seven families in only three rooms. The Empire has built some new apartments, but in the most stupid way, crowding them together in the inhabitable spaces rather than clearing out the ruined areas. In the new plans there is almost no light and air; the crowding so intense that a spreading epidemic threatens to wipe out a sector of the Depths. And the bombing over Imperial Centre was so fierce that what little soil remains is forever contaminated; there are no longer parks, or any kind of vegetative life, for that matter. People can no longer grow flowers.
A nagging sense pulls Leia from the Depths—dazed for a moment, she suddenly realises that Vader is watching her. Not directly; his gaze is still directed out the window. But Leia knows when she is being watched. She feels confused and expectant; she wants to do something about the Depths, and yet she wants Vader to take greater notice of her. She wants, though she could not have expressed it at the time, to impress him.
“What a pity about the Depths,” she hears herself saying, as through a haze. Then the haze clears, and she is stumbling forward, reckless and terribly afraid. “If only the planners had thought to renovate more of the lower sectors the people might be less crowded together, and less likely to die of this plague.”
Her father says nothing; his face is like a stone. He stares forward steadily, arms crossed over his chest. Leia’s heart pounds as she looks at him. It races as she looks at Vader, her eyes wide. But Vader does not even move—if anything, he becomes rigid. It suddenly strikes Leia that Vader is dangerous; he looks very dangerous, standing so still. She is suddenly ashamed. Terrified. Heat blooms on her cheeks and she can’t decide whether it is better to sit down or remain where she is. Her words hang in the air but she can’t swallow them back.
“You had better sit down, Leia, we’re about to land,” says her father in a low voice. Suddenly humble, Leia bows her head and sits down, beside him. Vader’s gaze is on her back. He could be breathing behind her; she feels every one of his loud breaths.
The shuttle lands, its wings closing over the windows and the sunlight. Automatic lights turn on in overhead panels. Her father follows the Stormtroopers out, and she stays close to the hem of his cloak, trying to appear as small as possible. Vader steps behind her, his every footstep jarring her brain. They step out of the dark recess of the cabin into blinding, brilliant light, and her head droops further to avoid the glare. Vader has lost interest in her again; her father is bowing to the ambassador, who was waiting for them on the platform, and Vader speaks curtly to both of them.
“I will leave you to Organa,” he tells the ambassador, then turns away. Don’t go, Leia thinks as he recedes on the platform, going to meet the Emperor, she supposes.
“This is my daughter, Leia,” her father says, taking her by the shoulders. The ambassador bares his teeth in a smile. “She wanted to see Imperial Centre. Leia, you’ll stay in the lobby,” he adds. Punishment, she thinks, this is her punishment. She curtseys despite her reddening face. Her father nods at the ambassador and they walk in the same direction as Vader, into the building at the end of the platform. Leia trails behind them. She knows the embassy: it is designed in the Imperial (rather than Alderaanian) way with boxy lines and smooth, black surfaces. Leia sits on a black couch in the spotlessly white lobby with a shining black table and flat-panelled holo built into the wall. Her father does not spare her a glance as he disappears with the ambassador. She makes a face at his back, her humility forgotten.
There is a single datatape on the table. Leia slides it into the holo, not expecting anything interesting. A man wearing red and black flickers onto the screen, raises his arms, and declares:
To believe that it is necessary for or conducive to art, to “Improve” life, for instance—make architecture, dress, ornament, in “better taste,” is absurd.
“What?” she says aloud.
With a coldness reminiscent of the machine-world, we recognise that THE ACTUAL HUMAN BODY BECOMES OF LESS IMPORTANCE EVERY DAY. Dehumanisation is the chief diagnostic of the Modern World.
Leia quivers with indignation as she slams the eject button on the holo. It spits out the tape; for a moment she simply stares at it; then—though she didn’t understand all the words, she found them disgusting—she lifts one of the pillows on the couch and despite the cameras that she knows are recording everything, thrusts the tape underneath. She makes a great show of sitting on the pillow, mostly for the cameras.
“That had better be rubbish,” she tells them, angry to be left alone and angry at the man in the tape. She is angry at the cameras. “Who would have the gall to tell the galaxy that people don’t matter? What’s wrong with this planet? Doesn’t anybody care about someone other than himself?”
Leia stands up, speaking even more loudly. “It’s about time somebody did something. Something useful. People are starving in the Depths! There aren’t any jobs, except in the weapons factories: that isn’t a way for decent people to make a living! Children are forced into their parents’ horridly complex factory jobs so that their parents can get a moment’s rest, because pay is so little and hours so long. A plague is spreading through the capital and will soon infect every worker you have! How does that help anyone? And besides, wasn’t a goal of this Empire to reduce slavery? How does it make you feel that in our very capital practically the entire population is slowly becoming slave to—“ But she cannot continue. Suddenly it seems stupid to be yelling at a camera. Feeling abashed, she turns and lifts the pillow from the couch, intending to return the tape to the table.
With a coldness reminiscent of the machine-world, we recognise that THE ACTUAL HUMAN BODY BECOMES OF LESS IMPORTANCE EVERY DAY, she thinks, and is reminded of Vader. She is relieved that he is with the Emperor, far from here. Suddenly he is no longer so interesting. Does Vader think people are droids, as mechanised as his arms and leg and iron lung? she wonders. I’m not a droid, Leia thinks, and shudders. She feels much warmer toward her father as she brushes the tape (she worries that it may have caught dust) and sets it carefully on the table. He is human, at least. She turns to put the pillow back in place.
But just when she doesn’t want him, Vader decides to appear. She hears his breathing a split second before he is in the room, and drops the pillow in fright.
“Where is your father?”
“In the first conference room, with the ambassador.” Her voice trembles.
Vader nods distantly. She expects him to join her father—though she hadn’t expected to see him, her fear is slowly disappearing as it occurs to her that the Emperor’s palace is not even in this sector, that Vader couldn’t possibly have gone that way, and that it makes sense that he would come back to the negotiations. But he stands still, almost as if he expects her to say something else. She glances longingly at the pillow, which sits askew on the couch; she would like to put it in place.
(Her presence in the Force is vivid, untamed. In her dark, wild eyes Vader sees another, a distant image that is painful to remember. For a moment, he lingers in that world, but the Princess’ face imposes on everything.)
“Come,” Vader says to her surprise. (He meant to take her to the proceedings, she realised.) “You will never learn about diplomacy out here.” Leia is stunned; she wonders if Vader is tricking her. Perhaps she was too obvious in the shuttle and he knows how badly she and her father get along. But she cannot help the rush of warm feelings towards him; she cannot help but love him, for a moment, or feel that he likes her and understands her. She smiles. The pillow on the couch suddenly seems insignificant, but certain that Vader will appreciate her conscientiousness, she straightens it in place before following him. She bestows gratitude on the back of his cloak, his beautiful black cloak.
Leia has never been so proud. When Vader presses the door panel and it opens so that her father sees her and stops midsentence, ready to protest—but then the look of understanding crosses his face as he realises that Vader would not have just let her in, that he must have a reason—the look on her father’s face goes straight to Leia’s head, and she sails into the room like a proud ship, prancing with the breeze. Joy colours everything; Vader’s mask is fringed with joy. She sits at a respectable distance from her father. Vader stands by the door. Dearest Vader! The door closes; her father closes his mouth, turns to the ambassador, and continues speaking as if Leia were never born to him and does not exist. Leia leans forward at the table, happier than ever in her life.
“As I was saying, Ambassador . . .”
Her father drones on about something she does not find interesting—and, like in music, the ambassador answers back with a variation on his theme. Somehow, Leia knows that Vader is as bored as she is, but she struggles to feign interest and to understand the conversation (something about the repercussions Alderaan faces if it breaks the trade laws and imports weapons; this in itself is interesting, yet there are many complicated tangents that she cannot follow). But she understands enough to wonder whether this—weapons issue, really—can be decided by two men alone. Should not this be discussed in the Senate? she wonders. The more she listens, the more she is convinced . . . the need to speak is bursting inside her, like a flower about to pop open, or a cork about to fly out of bottled chempagin; the pressure is immense—she glances at Vader, crazily certain that he will understand, that he will help—
As she looks at him (though he doesn’t look at her), his mask seems to say, The Senate is mostly a useless body that prolongs talk even longer than these two. But sometimes it has its uses.
Yes, Leia thinks—shallowly, for she forgot the thought later—he understands.
“Please excuse my interruption,” she says, heart pounding at her own daring, “but I’m wondering why this discussion couldn’t be held in the Senate. It occurs to me that the fate of Alderaan is more a matter of public than private debate.”
The ambassador smiles. Looking at his sharp teeth Leia suddenly wishes she’d kept her mouth shut; she does not really know what they are talking about. “You forget, Princess, that Alderaan is in no position to bargain before the Senate. The Empire,” he glances meaningfully at Vader, “is ready to close all Alderaanian trade because of several occasions where you have broken the law. Prince Organa and I are seeking a way to protect your people, while putting an end to the illegal black market.”
“The Senate takes too long to debate these things,” her father says in a cold tone. “Do not speak unless you are invited to, Leia.”
Vader stirs. It suddenly occurs to Leia that he is not very important—not here, at least. The ambassador is more powerful than he is. She wonders why he is here. His purpose is even less defined than hers: at least she knows that the only reason her father brought her was to seem more sympathetic before the ambassador.
Her face is burning, but she refuses to be daunted. Her father is a good man, generally, who is devoted to the republican cause and who understands politics, but Leia cannot stand him. He is too cautious; he doesn’t reveal himself openly. Leia prefers frankness and honesty. She would rather that he wore Vader’s gruesome mask and blinking black suit than wear such a complex weave of deceit: Vader, though he does not often say what he thinks, is at least honest. Her father used to test her by playing mind games, the kind that test reaction speed and cunning, when she was younger—she had always lost. She is still wary of tricks and clever designs.
“…We accept your terms.”
“I’m very glad,” the ambassador says in his soft and cool voice. “What a pleasure to work with you, Organa; it is refreshing to see how well we think together.”
“Likewise,” her father smiles, signing a datapad on the table. “Alderaan is very lucky.”
The ambassador stands. “A pleasure to meet you, Princess. She’s very charming,” he tells her father. Leia despises them both for their lies. She burns with anger at them both. “Would you say this arrangement is satisfactory?” he asks Vader, as if suddenly remembering that he exists. Leia marvels that anyone could forget about Vader: she herself is aware of his every breath.
“I see that you are satisfied,” Vader says.
“Excellent,” the ambassador says, gathering his things, including the datapad that her father signed. “Well, I shall be off then. Vader, give the Emperor my regards.”
“Leia, come,” says her father.
But Leia is watching Vader with confusion and dismay. Her protector, her defender—he is not so important after all. She is horrified for him. He is treated, she thinks, as dismissively as she is.
“Thank you for your help, Lord Vader,” she says, and curtseys. Vader looks at her for a moment and then turns away, following the ambassador through the door.
Her father is gripping her arm.
“This is the last time I bring you to Imperial Centre until you learn to behave,” her father hisses. “I told you never to speak to Lord Vader, I told you…”
Leia isn’t listening. She nods as her father speaks, but her mind is worlds away.
Later that afternoon her father leaves for another meeting. Leia, he orders, is to stay in the hotel. The two droids, See-Threepio and Artoo-Detoo, take the orders to heart, but Leia knows that Artoo is secretly on her side, and she also knows that Threepio will do whatever Artoo does. The moment her father’s shuttle leaves its pad, she suggests that the three of them go on a walk.
“But Mistress Leia!”
“Only to the lobby, of course,” she adds before Threepio can say anything else. “Father never said anything about moving around in the hotel.”
Threepio is dubious, but Artoo’s cheerful reassurance convinces him that a walk in the hotel is not against his programming. Leia is impatient and wishes that her father had not connected a security alarm to Threepio’s off-switch; she considers simply running away. She doesn’t know to where, though in the back of her mind she has a half-formed desire to find Vader again. Her mind still swirls with feelings connected to Vader: the horror she had felt at his treatment, pride and shame mixed together. Threepio trudges through the door, but in her mind, Vader steps out in his place. He has to duck to avoid hitting his head.
Artoo beeps; she loses the image. “Right,” she says, feeling empty and strange—“to the elevator.”
The lobby is on the middle storey of the four hundred-storey hotel: just far enough above the Depths that upper-class patrons never have to see them. There is a floating landing pad outside the door; this is where the taxis and private cars drop off and pick up their patrons. Leia eyes the doors longingly, but is not in the mood for Threepio’s inevitable fuss and turns to one of the giftshops instead. The stop is closed to droids; Leia walks in by herself.
Leia gapes; composes herself. The Senator of Mannich and his daughter stand smiling at the end of the store. “Aloysia!” she cries, hurrying forward. “What are you doing here?” Aloysia is enviously beautiful, and a rising opera star. Leia knew her briefly at an Imperial Youth summer camp and remembers that their acquaintance was coloured by jealousy—Aloysia jealous of Leia’s budding political career, Leia jealous of Aloysia’s beauty and singing talent.
“Aloysia’s been invited to join the Imperial opera,” the Senator says, stroking Aloysia’s blond head. “We thought to check out her prospects.”
Leia feels a twinge of the old jealousy. “Well—that’s wonderful! You must be so happy!”
“Very,” says Aloysia. Her dark eyes shine with the knowledge that she has won. “It’s a small part, of course, just a start.”
“Oh, but as good a start as any,” says the Senator. He suddenly looks at his watch. “Alas, I have a meeting in a few minutes. Aloysia, can I count on you to stay with Leia until I return?” Aloysia looks at Leia with something like a challenge; Leia nods furiously, smiles brightly, as her heart sinks inside. She watches her grandiose afternoon plans deflate into a heap, for Aloysia has sat on them, and feels, for a moment, peculiarly brittle.
Aloysia is holding a book in her hand. “Famous Faces in the Senate,” she shows Leia. “We’re in it; so are you. See?” Aloysia points to Bail Organa’s face: next to him is a coloured photograph of Alderaan from space, a photograph of Leia’s mother, and of Leia herself from last year. Aloysia then turns to the page on Mannich. “I think my father and I look rather alike,” she says dreamily. “And look! They remembered to put in a picture of me at the opera.”
“That’s pretty,” Leia says. Aloysia flips back to Alderaan, and pretends to study the pictures. “You don’t much resemble your father,” she says after a moment.
Leia stares at her in horror. Does Aloysia know? How could she know the secret?
“Not all people resemble their parents,” she says, her heart hammering. She takes the book away from Aloysia. “I look more like my mother, anyway.”
“That’s true,” Aloysia says, with her small and triumphant smile.
Leia’s fingers are clammy; everything secret and important that her real mother ordered her to protect must be protected, she thinks. She almost cannot breathe. Aloysia preens—she thinks she has won a contest—by taking another book from the shelf and smiling at it.
When her father gets home, Leia thinks with wounded pride, she will ask him about her real parents; Aloysia’s superior airs make her feel obligated, somehow, to know her own heritage. She does not even know who her real father was, except that he died. Her real mother died when Leia was very young, and Leia only remembers vague things—not what she really looked like.
“Let’s go to my room and play dolls,” Aloysia suggests. Leia agrees to the childish pastime in the hope that, while writing lines for a doll character, she will come up with a plan for approaching Bail Organa.
“I am your father,” Leia says, brandishing her doll at Aloysia’s cowering one.
“No, I don’t believe you, we don’t look anything alike.”
“Trust me,” Leia improvises. For a moment it looks as though Aloysia’s doll might answer, but then it collapses, crumpled by Aloysia’s fingers, as she bursts into laughter. Leia is hurt, convinced that even Aloysia’s laughter is a form of mockery.
“This is a stupid story.”
“I don’t think so,” Leia says, drawing up her height. “It’s a clever play on our earlier conversation.”
Leia looks at the clock on Aloysia’s elaborate hologram. “Actually, it’s time for me to go. My father will be arriving soon.”
Aloysia radiates displeasure, though her lips are smiling. Always smiling, Leia thinks. For a moment, her gaze directs on Aloysia’s face, and the jealousy reignites: she lusts after such beauty, such physical flawlessness. Bitterly wants such soft, pillowy hair. “Do tell him hello from me and my father,” trills Aloysia with sudden sweetness, raising a white hand to her hair as if she knows how much Leia admires it.
“I wouldn’t forget,” Leia says, kissing Aloysia on the cheek in the formal manner—she smells and tastes of powder and perfume—while signalling Threepio and Artoo toward the door.
“Who are my parents?” Leia demands when her father enters the room. She sits cross-legged on the bed; perhaps this is why he ignores her as he sets his business case on a table, and removes his cloak.
“I need to know,” she continues. “I think it’s time I knew—I’m thirteen in a month and old enough. I know you’re annoyed at me for my behaviour today but I promise that this is all related. I’ll be much calmer when I have the answers to my questions.”
Bail takes off his gloves. “What brought this on?” he says in a controlled voice.
“Does it matter?”
“I need to know,” she repeats, more urgently. She rocks slightly on the bed. “Wouldn’t you want to know, if you were in my position?”
Bail opens his business case and then glances up in her direction. “I can’t tell you.” His mouth twitches as he pulls some datapads out of the case and reads their covers. His finger runs over the top of the pile, searching for dust. “We’ve been over this many times.”
“You promised to tell me when I was old enough.”
“You’re not old enough.”
“I am old enough. I’m old enough to be curious and to be asking. That should be enough. Besides, I have a right to know.”
“Exactly, and when you’re old enough I’ll tell you. This discussion is over.”
Leia springs to her feet. “That’s not fair!”
“As your guardian I’m entitled to be unfair, at least until you come of age.”
“That’s over six years!”
“I didn’t know you could do math.”
Leia knows that tears will get her nowhere, but her eyes are burning with a growing pressure, and she feels no great desire to stop the tears from falling. She feels twin bursts of heat upon her cheeks; vaguely senses their ticklish flow. “I hate you!” she yells—childlishly, prematurely, but part of her wants to have a tantrum and is pleased to let Bail know what she really thinks.
“Another word and I’m sending you home.”
“I don’t have a home. I don’t have parents!”—rage doesn’t let her go further, and she simply stands for a moment, tears streaming down her face, with her hands clenched at her sides. Bail looks up from his datapads with his mouth in a clamped line. “I’m leaving,” Leia manages to choke out.
“You just watch me never come back!” she yells, and at the livid look that crosses his face she becomes afraid that he will hit her, or grab her arms. He doesn’t move but she’s afraid he will; with tumbling, desperate speed she runs to the door and presses the door panel but oh he locked the keys, it isn’t opening—she bangs the door with her fist, but that only hurts.
“Let me go,” she sobs, weakly hitting the door as if it might open this time.
Her father calmly works at his datapads, ignoring her noise. She sinks to the floor, crying freely now, wishing she knew her real father who had been, someone told her once, a Jedi knight in the Clone Wars and had died heroically by falling in a lava pit. He would have a lightsaber, she imagines, and be able to rescue her by cutting through the door.
“Stop crying,” Bail says over the scribbling noise of pen against a datapad, “it won’t do you any good.”
They leave for Alderaan the next day. Neither of them has had much sleep: Leia’s eyes are ringed with red from the tears she shed through the night. Bail finally banished her to the fresher, where she made a nest for herself out of towels, and eventually fell asleep at some time she cannot remember.
As their ship passes through Imperial Centre, Leia catches sight of a lambda shuttle much like the one they used yesterday. There is a dark shape inside: Leia wonders if it might just be Vader, leaning against the window. Then their ship makes a sharp turn toward the sky and, in the excitement of entering space, Leia forgets all about him. ------------------
It is another two years before she returns to Imperial Centre, this time as the senator to Alderaan. Her father accompanies her on business of his own, and leaves her alone. At first, heady with freedom and a sense of importance, Leia attends all of the parties she is invited to, but she quickly learns that her political enemies are the only frequent guests, and stops attending. (Though much can be learned from them when they are drunk, Leia finds their debauchery frightening.) She prefers to study in the quiet of her quarters (provided by the government, but luxurious); there is a cook droid of the highest quality, programmed to make her favourite Alderaanian delicacies, although the food made by the cook droid requires some accustoming to—what is considered fresh on Coruscant is several days older than what Leia is used to on Alderaan. And she has Threepio and Artoo—still; she can’t bear to upgrade—to keep her company. She never sees her father except at meals. They work efficiently in the mornings, bent over datapads whose edges are still fuzzy in the grey light of dawn, bodies swathed in thick robes. Leia drinks vast quantities of kaf. After about an hour, the first furtive streak of sun sneaks through the city; suddenly sun bursts out everywhere, and light filters through the angled blinds such that thin lines tremble over their hands and faces. The cook droid brings breakfast; Leia packs up her datapads, and she and her father go separate ways. It is their routine, very comfortable as long as Leia does not expect any love from him. He is an ardent supporter of her career, and genuinely wants her to succeed. They have no objection to being seen together; sometimes they plan outings specifically so that the journalists don’t accuse accuse Bail of locking her in the condominium to work.
Leia is a journalist’s target because she is the youngest senator ever seated in the Imperial Senate. Inner Rim aired a biography on her life only two months ago. She is famous enough that her father had to open a second mail account to contain all the requests for favours and autographs.
Leia never sees Vader. He came to the opening session of the Senate, but stood so far away and left so quickly that she had no chance to talk to him. She comes closer through the urban legends, the kind muttered in the Depths by children that have managed to penetrate every echelon of society, that she relishes with ill-concealed delight. He never appears before the public; Leia wonders if this is because he does not like people to see him (she doubts this; Leia has read a lot about Vader and believes she understands him, and he seems to thrive from fear) or because he is involved in secret military affairs that take place in distant systems. Or perhaps he stays very close to the Emperor, whom, by her father’s count, no one has seen in fifteen years. Perhaps the Emperor is dying and it is in Vader’s interest to stay close to him. At any rate, she is still curious about Vader, but only in a fleeting sense—someone else has to mention his name for her to remember he exists, and even then, he is only a vague memory, a slight jerk in her stomach. To be perfectly honest, she rarely thinks about him anymore.
She and her father are working together one morning—“Read this,” Leia says, forwarding him an article through her datapad, as we might forward an email. Threepio nervously watches the cook droid dress eggs—a rarity, mixed in the Alderaanian style with spices, creams—with a vegetable garnish, as if he believes they are poisoned. He trails behind the other droid as it carries elegant plates to Leia and her father. Leia reaches absently for her fork. She catches a whiff of the eggs and has to smell them more closely. They are scrambled; the scent of spicy, fluffy eggs, surrounded with fruits cut into the shapes of flowers, bright vegetable flourishes wreathed around glistening jelled meats, makes a pleasing impression on her senses. But just as quickly as pleasure comes it is gone; she is used to the feeling and is no longer impressed by luxuries.
“Your friend Aloysia sends her greetings. She must not have your address, I’ll send it to her. . . She also invites us to see her at the opera tonight. Apparently she’s premiering a role.”
“Oh yes, I saw the ads,” Leia says. “Some new opera, I don’t remember the title.”
“Amazing,” Bail murmurs. “I would have thought the composers would give up by now.”
Bail scrapes at jellied meat with his fork. “Well, when the Empire decided to purge most existing art because it displayed the wrong values—was, you understand, what they called degenerate—most of the real artists went underground. Some tried to conform to the new standards, but the results were insipid and unpopular. We haven’t had a new opera since I can remember.”
“I don’t like opera.”
“Your mother did,” Bail says. This is his newest strategy; if Leia misbehaves, he reveals tantalising little bits about her parents, her mother mostly, but then refuses to explain them further. Leia gathers the little bits like gems; polishes them carefully and wears them close. She feels herself perk with interest, suddenly, at the prospect of opera, though she knows that is what Bail wants her to feel.
“Did Aloysia enclose tickets?”
“No, she says they’re purchaseable at the box office.”
“Typical,” Leia says with an unladylike stab at her eggs, adding, “I think we should go.”
Bail raises his eyebrows, but does not protest. “I’ll send someone to buy tickets.”
Darth Vader does not go to the opera.
He knows this is the perception. It is advantageous to keep this perception; he would be angry if it changed. But tonight’s performance is different—tonight is the first performance of an uncensored opera since the Artist’s Guild was destroyed in the war. Vader is not entirely certain why the Emperor agreed to lift the censors on art after coming down against it so forcefully twelve years ago—he is suspects, deep down, that the Emperor is going senile.
(For a moment he stands rigid as his mind follows the usual patterns: hatred of servitude, the chains—the darkness—he becomes sensitive to the reeking combination of sweat and the metal suit, spittle and self-disgust--; then with swift force he crushes the thoughts.)
During the war, when the galaxy was less stable than now and the artists had taken it to be their mission to produce outstanding and interesting new works, his Master had often attended the opera, and Vader had gone with him. And his wife, he remembers, had gone often as well. The darkness of her private box had been ideal for secret meetings. She had loved the singing and felt sorry for the women in their costumes—burdensome and constricting in the old comedies and tragedies. His Master never attended performances of older works, preferring the sleek, avante-garde sensations that had the incredible effect of splitting an audience into jeering camps (was this really art or was it a bitter farce?—and the debate raged on); his Master liked their bleak hopelessness even though he immediately banned them as dangerous propaganda. The fall of the Old Republic, he used to say, for he enjoyed such sayings, was predicted in art years before it actually happened.
While pregnant and sitting in an opera box Vader’s wife had claimed that their child would have an advantage if he listened to music through her womb. Vader had thought it nonsense at the time, but for some reason her words have remained with him. Sometimes when he passes the Imperial Opera in a shuttle he thinks: the child listened to opera in her womb.
He tells his Master that he wishes to see the opera. His Master knows everything about him, for Vader tells him everything—except the most secret things, which are kept safe inside a trunk, shrunken and miniature as a seed pearl on one of her bracelets. The secret things he locks in that trunk, in that part of himself that no longer Is, that cratered, bitten expanse of no man’s land riddled with unexpected danger, pits, traps, and grey sand that makes it easy to lose one’s way. Like a condemning embarrassment Vader shoves the trunk and its thoughts aside to this formless, private space that no-one but himself can enter; there the trunk sits, waiting, calling, and he stammers and draws out excuses, promising to examine its contents another time. They are in desperate need of sorting—if he sorts them, perhaps the muddle he lives in will arrange itself into clear direction—but he is afraid of what he might find, of what a world without muddle would be, and therefore continues to toss thoughts into the trunk without stopping to sort them. His Master knows this, knows that Vader will never find the courage to open the trunk and examine its contents. He thinks it a fine joke, and often laughs at Vader about it; Vader who remains silent and resents, but is ever loyal—stubbornly so.
Vader wants to see the opera.
It is the second time he has asked; his Master sneers, taunts Vader, but grants the request. He needs Vader desperately, and Vader is nothing without him, but even though they depend on each other more than anyone else, they hate the sight of one another. His Master had expected Vader, as a child of prophecy, to be more powerful than he is. A pit of lava and a restrictive suit have significantly curbed Vader’s powers—certainly, they have significantly disappointed his Master. Since that Fall his Master has not only distanced himself from Vader but also from the Empire; he is increasingly preoccupied by a secret transformation within himself. Vader cannot even guess what the transformation is: all he knows is that it makes his Master’s Force signature incredibly repulsive. It is no secret between them that Vader loathes his Master just as intensely as his Master loathes him, though Vader at least keeps those feelings under control. In some ways, their mutual hatred inspires Vader to do better work—simply to spite his Master’s low expectations.
Vader bows to his Master before leaving the throne room. The guards settle in place before the door, and his Master, thinking of what he has just seen in Vader’s future, indulges in a sour smile.
Nearly every senator and Imperial official with a name is at the opera. Leia dresses in senatorial finery and curses when a smirking Grand Moff knocks right into her chest. Her father catches her by the arm, his face darkening with fury.
“We’ll go straight to the box,” he mutters, putting a hand on her back without letting go of her arm. For a moment Leia remembers another time when he held her so firmly—to tell her that she would never see Imperial Centre again until she behaved, she remembers. They bustle up gleaming stone stairs and his grip gradually loosens. The walls are curved, beaten copper; chandeliers dangle at intervals from the stepped ceilings.
There is a crush around the entrance to the first balcony; in the crowd, Leia sees some senators she knows, mostly dressed in boxy togas. Princesses and dignitaries weave through the plain sea of senatorial white and military khaki and green, making an impression merely by wearing bold or differently coloured fabric. It is currently fashionable to dress as boringly as possible, although there is the occasional exception—the eccentric owner of the Gussok weapons factory, for example, proudly displays his flashing purple suit. As people press and merge together, their voices rumble and surge to the ceiling.
They make it to their box, which they are to share with a female senator Leia does not know. Greetings are politely exchanged. Leia glances curiously at the view over the balcony rail, then sits between her father and the other senator.
“What brought you to the opera?”
“I was invited by the prima donna.”
“Really! Do you know Aloysia Herrange?”
“But how charming! I was also invited by Mademoiselle Herrange!” the senator cries, smoothly launching into the fashionable language of the Imperial court—Naboo, also the language of the Emperor’s homeworld.
It made perfect sense, Leia knew, not listening to a word that the senator says, that Aloysia would invite everyone she had ever met to her first major performance, but it stings a little that she should do so, that Leia is not a special friend. Not that she is surprised. And she is annoyed at the senator for speaking Naboo; Leia is a purist and prude about Naboo, because she knows that her real mother was born there. She hates to hear the language spoken by anyone other than the voice in her head, the voice she is convinced belongs to her real mother.
“Have you looked at the programme notes, Leia?” her father says, interrupting the other senator’s conversation. He finds her use of Naboo as disturbing as Leia does. “You won’t understand the opera without them.”
Leia smiles benignly at the other senator—Hoeldin, she thinks is her name, whose lips tighten at the interruption, but who follows her father’s example and turns to the notes on the screen set before their seats. Leia glances at the notes but cannot comprehend their meaning in the slightest; she feels strangely detached. While the senator and her father have their heads bowed down to read Leia leans off the edge of her seat and peers over the balcony, coolly examining her surroundings. The opera house is shaped rather like the inside of an egg, dark and smooth, with boxes rising along its rising curve. Every box is dimly lit by greenish light from the screens with notes. Below, far enough down that Leia’s stomach twists at the distance, is a submerged pit for musicians, and a clear, raised stage.
She thinks of the Grand Moff who elbowed her in the chest, but as if she were an observer watching herself, removed from the experience. She feels utterly removed from the world—unusually aware of the press of her fingers on the rail, yes, but separate from and above the buzz around her. She feels as if she is searching for something and that her soul has expanded to fit the entire opera house, but that there is nowhere for it to go or look. She longs for comfort, but she does not know from where. Her feet kick lightly against the barrier before their seats.
The senator next to her gasps. Leia thinks for a moment that she has done something wrong, but the senator is gaping at something over the rail. Leia follows her gaze. Nothing seems out of the ordinary; people are still filling their boxes and the stage is empty.
“What is it?” Bail asks.
“Look directly across,” the senator says in a hush. (Hoeldin, Leia thinks, but is not certain.) “I think Darth Vader is in that box!”
No one else seems to have noticed. Leia directs her gaze over the hall with a burst of anticipation she does not care to examine—directly on a box at the same level as theirs—a seemingly empty box with a floating, glowing set of white and red bars that Leia recognises as the controls to Vader’s suit. The rest of him has melted into the shadows. Her heart skips a beat, and she swallows.
Her father doesn’t see him. “Are you sure?” he asks. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone in that box.”
“Look at those lights. They’re the controls on his suit.”
“I don’t see any lights.”
His voice is slightly put-out, but Leia is not interested in helping him. Her attention is painfully divided between Vader and this senator who saw Vader first. As she looks at the senator with admiration, Leia is overcome by a wave of incredulity that a prissy creature like this could have such sensitive eyes.
“How did you know?” she says.
“I don’t know,” the senator says, shrugging. She is suddenly cool, unperturbed. “I thought I heard his breathing and then there he was.”
But the box lights are dimming; the orchestra has begun to tune. Leia closes her mouth and resolves to ask the senator more questions later. Beside her, Bail settles into a relaxed position, expecting a lengthy performance, perhaps, or bracing himself for a spectacle. Leia suddenly feels the pressure of minds on her, minds expecting silence and focused attention; the pressure that she naturally assumed in childhood and has never thought to question since, of social responsibility. She controls her gaze so as not to look at Vader’s box and forces herself to pay attention to the stage. In a half-aware corner of her mind, where her imagination flames, she fancies that the senator’s eyes gleam in the shadows.
Suddenly the world explodes with white light; the crystal stage is lit from within like a brilliant revelation, bursting strong rays into the darkness. It is as if every light in Imperial Centre went out and then surged to life at once, pulsating, electric, dazzling, streaming light into the space vacuum like a star. Leia is overcome with anticipation; she leans forward in time to see the conductor, dressed in shimmering silver, raise his arms.
In the box across, Vader watches the conductor with a pang, thinking: the child listened to opera in her womb. The music begins, and at the first note he feels a ripple of pleasure pass through the audience. He is surprised to feel a similar stirring within himself, a response to the notes that resonates through the Force like one of the responses the instruments are making to each other. A response to a response. Music is deeply connected with the Force, although the Jedi never explained this; as a padawan he had been taught to sing, not to better understand the Force, but as a further method of disciplining himself. Singing was as natural as flying, however, and his voice, after a single lesson, had been better than anyone his age. He found this embarrassing; Kenobi teased him mercilessly, jealous as usual; they never sang again after that. But this music—melancholy, restrained, never spilling over itself with emotion like the music he used to prefer, but can no longer stand—something in him responds. It is strangely old-fashioned music, even plain—there is no connection between this music and the radical, atonal stuff of the last operas in the Old Republic—but plain is the wrong word. There is something rather pure about this music, something that attracts him greatly but that makes the reigning part of him uncomfortable. Music that shines in the Force. Dangerous, he thinks sensibly, and considers telling the Emperor to ban the opera. He looks across the hall at Leia Organa in her box. Her face is shining in the light. Suddenly he cannot bear to look at her shining face; he wants to shrink from this light, these strong, clear sounds. He steps back into the shadows, his cape brushing the ground, and considers leaving the opera.
Ah!—but he wants to see Leia, because she resembles his wife. Her father’s face is pulled away from hers, and his features blurred and indistinct by shadow, giving Vader an unobstructed view. Bail was married Then, he remembers; perhaps Bail’s wife also came to the opera. The gates to his imagination open tentatively, stiff with rust. He drinks in the sight of Leia Organa. The music swells; her lips open slightly to reveal teeth. Her eyes are very wide, her face round and slightly chubby. She is a child, but a very beautiful child—like his wife. His regret is a song, threatening to break forth but turning into a wheeze as it catches in the respirator. He is suddenly aware of the mask’s weight. The eyelenses that restrict his vision. The forceful push of air through metal lungs. It is a bitter awakening, and for a moment he thinks of his childhood and being kicked awake in the morning to work as a slave. He stiffens slightly, as if he has been kicked.
Next to Leia sits Hoelden Revaree, at least ten years older, a sophisticated, sculpted beauty. He beholds her like a corpse, even though she is slightly sensitive to the Force. Turns back to Leia, and yet the spell is broken—Leia has turned her face into the shadows. The overture is over and singers spill onto the stage, bubbling sing-speak. Their dialogue is conventional; Vader even recognises the plot as a famous children’s story. Two children are abandoned by their stepmother and captured by an evil scientist who intends to use them for experiments. Through cunning and faith, the children escape the scientist and find their father, who promises never to leave them again.
The music soars. It is exquisite, blossoming in the Force like iridescent fireworks, casting rich light on the foundations of existence. But Vader is disappointed. He cannot imagine why anyone would choose such a banal plot. He had expected something subversive, something to think about. He wants his existence to be challenged. The Jedi are gone; he is no longer important, except as a war machine. He needs an enemy, something to do—he is restless and bored, terribly lonely, and his padawan desire to be praised has become something ugly and monstrous, has turned against him into a burning, a vicious self-despair, that smothers him like the lava—that fierce orange-red explosion that seemed, after the initial fear, so beautiful. He had fallen so slowly; he half expected it to be soft, like a marshmallow. He was not even in pain until they pulled him out. Then he screamed, screamed. He could not lie still: he twitched and convulsed. The pain reached its unbearable height and then continued to escalate—to greater heights, to spectacular levels. It spread like a rapid tumour. He was coughing; he couldn’t breathe, he gasped for air, but it wasn’t coming. His eyes were boiling. Pressure like clawed fingers pushed him into blackness, seeped with anger.
Vader no longer sees the stage, the opera house. His memory torments him. As it subsides and the phantom pains fizzle away he is overcome with dull, throbbing anger. He looks at the stage—two lost children. He wishes them dead.
His cloak tangles in his feet as he turns away. The corridor is empty and dimly lit. He hurries into its shadows, longing to get away.
In the box across, Leia feels sick at heart for the poor children (one of them played by Aloysia) abandoned and captured against their will. Their duet—soaring, intertwined, in the minor key--is the saddest conceivable. She longs for them to find their father. With her heart already broken for them, Vader’s exit—she notices it as well as Hoeldin—feels incredibly depressing. To her immense surprise, she starts to cry.
The new opera is the talk of elegant society. Aloysia preens at her celebration party, a glittering affair. Leia has only been here an hour and is desperate to leave, but feels obligated to stay, because it is an expensive, well-attended party, and because she is afraid to be seen leaving too early. She cradles a sweet drink and hovers next to Hoeldin, who is surrounded by seemingly numberless male admirers. Aloysia is dancing with the opera’s composer, a slight, pale man named Philus. He has a large nose and bright, shining eyes. Aloysia introduced them briefly; Leia was too impressed to say anything. Leia is now pressed between two Imperial militarymen that are very interested in Hoeldin’s ideas on military reform, seeming to find them amusing. Hoeldin speaks calmly, in her low voice. Next to this company, Leia thinks with some pride, she seems incredibly refined and sophisticated.
The dancing around them has stopped; Aloysia is laughing, holding Philus at arm’s distance, practically bursting out of her dress. It is orange and cream, shimmering folds of fabric that look lovely against her skin. Philus leads Aloysia to a small dais, then goes to the piano—an old relic; Leia had no idea such things existed—to accompany her singing. What would you like to hear? she asks the audience, blushing, smiling. Of course everyone wants to hear selections from the new opera, especially with Philus there. She launches into song. Leia is even more moved by the melancholy of the music this second time; she is awed by the transformation in Aloysia, who suddenly is the sad little girl, abandoned and betrayed. A glow has come over her face. She is pure, innocent. When the music ends people groan with disappointment. It takes Leia a moment to lose the aura of the music, for Aloysia to lose the sense of the notes that were--so briefly--hers. Leia fixates on the composer, this Philus, whose hair is almost white. He is gazing at Aloysia with rapture. Leia wants to sink to her knees and worship him for writing such music.
The room echoes with applause. Aloysia bows, smiles, holds out the sash at her waist. Philus stands to announce that her voice is angelic and that he has written a new piece especially for her. But people are have begun to talk; his voice is too soft; and Aloysia is already hanging on someone else’s arm. The crowd drifts away; he stands alone at the piano. He watches Aloysia with bewilderment on his face as she is surrounded by admirers. The fickle crowd returns to drinking and conversation. Leia, standing very still, watches him cross the floor in a daze. He sits down at a table with a terribly crushed look on his face.
For a moment she despises Aloysia. Then she decides to rescue Philus. She is a great admirer of his music. His opera was ravishing.
She tells him that; he raises his white head, his blue eyes focusing, brightening with pleasure. For such a little man, he moves a great deal, blinking rapidly, tapping his fingers on the table. He cannot hear enough of her opinions, he says. She tells him how wonderfully sad his music is. He asks about the finale; did she notice, for example, that it was three times longer than in regular opera? But nowhere as tiresome, she says with the terrible thrill of making compliments on the spot—she knows nothing about opera, nothing about music, and is afraid it will show. He asks another question that she cannot understand and she is forced to admit that she can no longer remember the plot. He is visibly disappointed. She is glowing with embarrassment. They are silent for a moment as he tears his gaze from her face and looks around the room. Probably for Aloysia. To her surprise, he suggests that they see what the commotion is about in the corner, where a growing number of people are watching a holoscreen.
Still embarrassed, it takes Leia a moment to adjust to the contents of the holo, some news programme. She presses next to Philus and behind a ring of strangely silent onlookers. Their drinks, she notices, are frozen in their hands. Philus steps on her shoe. She excuses him, craning her neck to see.
Terrorists have set off a bomb in the Imperial palace, says an announcer. Philus, ever-moving, starts to quiver. Leia shifts her neck to see—half the palace destroyed. The Emperor and Lord Vader are quite alive, says the announcer, showing an orderly procession of Imperial guards marching in front of the throne room, and Vader striding quickly past them. Leia’s mouth suddenly tastes sour. She watches Vader’s cloak trail behind him. The reason for the attack is unknown, says the announcer, but it is probably linked to underground anarchist societies in the Depths.
Philus breaks away from the crowd and starts playing a mournful theme on the piano that Leia recognises as variations on the Imperial anthem. He composes them on the spot. Aloysia, hearing the news as she dances past the group around the holo, tears away from her partner. Fearing that their attention has shifted away from her, she bursts into tears before all of her guests. She rails at Philus for not taking this disaster seriously. Someone comes between them as she is about to hit him with her fists, catching her by the arms. She collapses, sobbing. Leia watches without any feeling. She gradually notices a presence at her arm. It is Hoeldin.
“I feel it’s time to leave, what about you?”
Leia nods, looking for a place to set down her drink.
“Best to leave them alone,” Hoeldin says, nodding at Philus and Aloysia. “And I want to be home before traffic halts completely.”
“You don’t think it will have halted already?” says somebody who was listening to their conversation—a man in military uniform. “They’ll be scouring the airlanes for the perpetrators. You’re better off in a military transport—the Stormtroopers won’t be watching those.”
“And where would we find a military transport?” Hoeldin says haughtily. She has dangling crystal earrings; they gleam like stars. Leia savours her beauty, her bearing. In a few days Hoeldin has become her best friend.
“Come with me,” says the man. “I want to leave as well, and I have a military clearance.”
“How do we know we can trust you?” Leia says.
The man smiles. He has a clean, pleasant face, and Leia feels her doubts trickling away. “I give you my word that I would never harm two senators, especially such famous ones as yourselves. And I can show you my clearance, if you wish.”
“We’ll go with you,” Hoeldin says immediately. “Better than catching a taxi,” she mutters to Leia, but the look on her face says that she found Leia’s question annoyingly naïve. Leia refuses to be embarrassed; she doesn’t trust men. With a last glance at Philus—gathering his music from the piano—and Aloysia—teary-eyed, wailing, and superb—she follows Hoeldin outside onto the landing platform.
“My name is Piett,” the man says, holding out his hand to each of them in turn. The night is cold, and the wind whips around their faces. He raises his voice. “I’m very glad to assist you.”
They walk down the platform to a compact silver shuttle. Hoeldin enters first, Leia next, Piett last, in order to close the door. He leans forward to the driver with Hoeldin’s address, then Leia’s. The shuttle picks off the landing platform with a burst of speed, and begins whistling through the city.
“What do you do, Piett?” says Hoeldin.
“I’m an officer on the Devastator,” he says.
“Lord Vader’s ship?” Leia asks in surprise.
“—Do you ever see him?”
Piett laughs at the swiftness of her question. “I see him all the time. There isn’t a commanding officer more visible than Lord Vader, I can tell you.” His voice tapers off as he speaks. Leia thinks he is shuddering, but it is hard to tell in the darkness.
“Well, you must have feelings about this disaster, I imagine,” Hoeldin says in cool voice. “Lord Vader seems to have been a chief target.”
“Oh, he would survive a deluge,” Piett says. “I’m not worried.”
“Do you ever allow senators on your ship?” Leia asks, her mind whirring.
“Only occasionally. The Devastator is in the docks at the moment, actually, so the crew is landlocked for another month while she gets repaired.”
Through the window, Leia sees vast lines of traffic held up by the police. She can hear faint honks and beeps. “Thank you for this favour,” she says sincerely. “I can’t imagine being stuck in that.”
“Not at all,” Piett says. He is looking at Hoeldin as he speaks.
“Your stop, princess,” says the driver after some silence, halting on the landing pad outside her quarters. Surprised by the speed of their arrival, Leia fumbles to exit the shuttle. “Thanks again!” she calls, once outside, but Piett has already shut the door. She watches the shuttle whistle past for a moment, then disappear into the city. The lights are on in her quarters, including the blue flicker of the holoscreen. Her father must be watching the news.
“Thank goodness you’re home, Leia!” he exclaims upon seeing her, leaping up from his chair. Artoo rolls toward her with a rapid alternation of chiding and happy beeps. Threepio echoes him.
“It’s very good to see you, Mistress Leia!”
Leia pats Artoo on his silver dome. “I came home as soon as I heard the news.”
“What were people saying?”
“Oh, this and that. Nobody seems to know.”
Bail nods. He is still standing, and seems uncomfortable. “You didn’t say anything?”
“Of course not!”
“Good.” He sits down, smiling. “Welcome to a larger world,” he says. Behind his vague words is the meaning, Congratulations, the Rebellion has officially begun.
Leia raises her arm in a mock toast. Threepio imitates her and she bursts into giggles.
Leia runs into Piett again about a week later, after the Senate has adjourned for the weekend. She is sitting with Hoeldin at a café covered in artificial leaves. The point is to make customers forget they are in Imperial Centre by selling them exotic fruits and pastries. Hoeldin is drinking spiced kaf, and Leia is eating a pastry studded with candied flowers, when all of a sudden Piett walks through the door and catches sight of them. From Hoeldin’s nervous start, Leia has the feeling that this is no spontaneous meeting, and that she herself was only invited along to support Hoeldin in case things go badly.
“Hello!” he greets them. Leia smiles, liking him immensely. Hoeldin offers him a chair, pulling it out with her ringed fingers. He has exchanged his uniform for a blue suit that looks very much like his uniform. Hoeldin smiles dazzlingly as he offers her an expensive bouquet.
“You must forgive me, Princess,” he tells Leia. “Had I known you’d be here I would have brought you flowers as well.”
Leia smiles, unfooled. “You’re very kind.”
“So, what’s the news in the Senate?” he asks. Hoeldin shakes her long hair, tied in a series of braids, before launching her detailed answer. Leia lets her speak, her mind wandering in another direction. Piett is here because of Hoeldin. She wonders when he saw Vader last, dearly wants to ask him. She begins to dream about Star Destroyers, with enormous turret guns and wedge-shaped bottoms. She loves the image of Vader on a Star Destroyer, his cape barely brushing the floor as he walks. His breathing, she imagines, terrorises all the sailors.
Hoeldin stands up; she would like to get Piett something to drink, she says. Piett watches her go, then turns to Leia. Leia beats him to speech.
“I’m very interested in Darth Vader. Have you seen him?”
“Yes,” he says, giving her a calculating look. “The Devastator will be out of drydock sooner than expected, so he has been giving extra commands.” Because of the palace explosion, Leia guesses, waiting for Piett to continue. His face is strangely taut. “Why are you interested in Vader?”
Because he understood me, Leia thinks. “He helped me once,” she says vaguely.
And Piett frowns. “I see,” he says. “Well, I wouldn’t think too much about it. Lord Vader doesn’t like to remember the favours he’s done for other people. If you tried to thank him he would be furious with you.”
“I don’t want to thank him.”
“Ah,” Piett says, but is too polite to ask further. His eyes lift to take in Hoeldin as she returns with his drink; he thanks her, gazing at her face under long eyelashes while tasting it. Hoeldin asks if he likes it. He pronounces it extraordinarily delicious. Leia picks a candied violet from her cake, and eats it.
By the end of the visit Hoeldin and Piett are constantly exchanging glances beneath their eyelashes. Hoeldin’s cheeks are tinged with pink; Piett is blushing furiously. Leia is both amused and bored. As they stand to leave—Piett will accompany them home in his shuttle—Hoelden suddenly exclaims that she must wash her hands, leaving Leia alone with Piett one more time.
But this time, he initiates the conversation. “If you like Vader so much,” he says quietly, “you should see his castle. The Emperor built it for him in the Factory District. It’s a bit of a distance from here, but well worth the trip. The architecture is fabulous.”
“Bast Castle?” Leia says. She had never thought of it seriously before; it was more of a dark fantasy, something that did not really exist.
“Yes. He doesn’t always live there—sometimes on the Devastator, sometimes who-knows-where—and he doesn’t like visitors, but you can get a good view of it from a shuttle.”
“Thanks,” Leia says, her mind racing with plans. “That’s splendid. I think I might go now.” She pauses. “That is, if you wouldn’t be offended.”
“Not at all!” He speaks too eagerly and turns scarlet. Smiling to herself, Leia explains her plan to Hoeldin, who has just returned, but doesn’t seem to hear a word, her entire attention being focused on Piett’s luminous, grey eyes.
It is with a great sense of relief that Leia steps out of the stiflingly love-filled café and orders herself a taxi. She is glad that she is not as beautiful as Hoeldin, or old enough to be interesting to men. The driver, to Leia’s immense gratification, is horrified by her request to fly over Bast Castle. After almost an hour of watching Hoeldin exchange heated looks with Piett it is deeply refreshing to argue with a taxi driver. He informs her, in an incredulous voice intended for stupid tourists, that the last shuttle to stop over Bast Castle for a viewing was shot into pieces by a laserbeam. Leia counters by increasing his tip. His eyes widen. They are rimmed with pus, she notices, terribly scarred and inflamed. Leia wonders if he’s caught the plague, the one spreading through the Depths.
“One hundred credits!” It takes no brain to know what an enormous sum that is. He swears under his breath with greed and turns to the wheel. The engine hums to life. Leia leans back in her seat as the shuttle rises, smiling at her victory and trembling with exciting fear. She is extremely proud of the way her voice filled the shuttle with--an air of command, she thinks. And the idea that she might be blown into smithereens by Vader’s laserbeam is absolutely thrilling. She pays extra attention to the skyline as it streaks by, convincing herself it is the last time she will see it. She feels curiously satisfied, even benevolent—she ought to write a will, she thinks, donating all her money to a cure for the plague. Her mind is fuzzy, but pleasantly untroubled. Her latent sense of imminent danger reflects itself in sharp-tipped starscrapers and swift traffic lanes—but all glowing in heavenly light. With a sigh of affected pathos she even believes that the blackened, crumbling parts of the city, ravaged by fire and explosion craters, are beautiful.
The shuttle banks left, skimming smoothly on a current of wind. Leia closes her eyes in satisfaction.
“There you go, ma’am.”
Vader’s castle. Leia sits upright. “Loop around it.”
“Are you mad? That’s the best way to die!”
“We made an agreement.”
“Yeah, that I’d bring you here for a look. There’s no way in hell I’m looping around. That’s too obvious that you’re interested in the place! The last guy who tried that was blown out of existence—I’m saying, you don’t forget that kind of thing!”
“Vader wouldn’t shoot without a reason,” Leia says, drawing with detached pride from her vault of knowledge about Vader—all-made up, but impressively developed, like the notes for a novel. She could write the Vader novel. “That shuttle must have been manned by a spy.”
“I’m not staying around,” the driver says in a cracked voice. He is turning the shuttle around; Leia presses her hands against the window glass in protest. The black spires of Vader’s castle poke into the clouds, and Leia imagines picking one up and spearing the driver with it. “One hundred credits just ain’t worth dying for.”
The castle—receding so swiftly!—is black as pitch, with an oily, iridescent gleam. It squats amidst the abandoned wreck of a gas refinery, slim, towering spires thrusting sharply into the clouds, and ringed by landing pads. There are a few windows—not many, but a few—from which Vader has an unobstructed view of a chimneystack with a gaping hole in its middle, and of collapsed warehouses with their walls peeling away like sticky paper, and curved like long, yellowed nails. The ground seeps purple tar, forming pools that look strangely still and shimmer in the sunlight.
And then the shuttle is off—zooming back to the main city. Leia nearly screams with frustration.
“You can’t possibly think I’d tip you now,” she says, but the threat is out of her voice, and she feels resigned. The driver says nothing. It suddenly occurs to Leia that he might know who she is, and that he could rat on her behaviour to the tabloids. She becomes afraid.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “Of course I’ll tip you. I’m sorry that you felt so scared. I shouldn’t have pushed you.”
“I’ll do anything but that,” the driver swears. “Anything!” He seems eager to prove that he isn’t a coward; he keeps glancing at her through the rearview mirror. Leia feels a stab of irritation. How strange people are!
“Take me to the Alderaanian embassy, please,” she says, suddenly feeling she has had enough adventure for one day.
Her father is surrounded by advisors, his face lined with worry. Seeing her arrive, he grasps her arm and takes her to a private room.
“What is it?” she asks, and notices a hand-held holoviewer in his hand, stamped with the Alderaanian symbol. She takes it from him. The smooth metal flashes in the light.
“Your mother,” he says, beginning to pace. “There’s been an uprising on Alderaan.”
“What do you mean?”
“An underground militia. They want us to lift the ban on weapons and revoke the peace treaty.”
Leia feels dizzy; a rush of guilt floods her like the downpour of a waterfall. And she has been wasting her day! “Which militia?”
He stops pacing. “Snopeaw,” he says and Leia nearly drops the holo-viewer.
“Hush!” He brings forth a datapad and scribbles on it: Yes, the same group hired to bomb the palace. Say nothing. Leia’s mouth twists—she had forgotten about surveillance.
“And this?” she says, meaning the holo-viewer. It is a chilly, circular piece of metal, surprisingly light to be carrying such weighty news.
“The same,” he says.
Leia runs her thumb across the base of the viewer to play the recording. A slim figure—her mother, caught on blue holovid—flickers into motion.
“I’d best get back,” her father says, meaning the advisors outside. “Join us when you’re finished.” Leia nods. Her mother repeats what her father has said, in more detail, a stoic look on her face, and then flickers out. Leia stares at the empty viewer for a moment, her heart pounding.
“Stupid,” she whispers to herself, and slips the holovid into her robes. For a moment Vader’s castle appears vividly in her mind, spires gleaming in the sun. Then she feels disgusted with herself.
There is a terrible cry outside. She is struck with foreboding; her eyes widen, her knees melt. She knows what has happened. She stumbles, wobbles to the door, like someone half-drowned.
“Mother?” she wheezes, when the advisors notice her.
“Dead,” her father cries, his face covered with his hands. Dead—dead, dead, the word echoes in her head. She sees brittle autumn leaves scraping the ground, scattering in the wind. She remembers a coffin, another mother, her hands clasped over her chest, her face covered with a shining funeral mask. Someone’s arm is around her waist, supporting her.
“They bombed the palace.” Whispers. “So sorry, princess.”
Leia is chilled, numb; but she isn’t crying. Her limbs feel frozen and yet she is trembling. “Vader,” she says loudly.
“The militia, the militia.”
“Vader,” she repeats, struggling to escape from the arm at her waist. “It was Vader, you idiots! He ordered the attack.”
She is being bustled away, like a child; her father is receding in the distance, like Vader’s castle. Leia explodes with hatred at the thought. She struggles to free herself from the advisors, stupid obstacles in her way.
“You need rest. Time to adjust. Death is no easy thing.”
“Let me go!”
“Rest,” says a firm voice. A push forward; she stumbles and falls. A door slams shut behind. Leia is locked in her quarters. She picks herself up, aching, and rushes against the door, beating it with her fists. Nothing. The skin on one of her palms bursts and begins to bleed.
Leia rummages in her pocket for the holo-viewer. She sets it on a table and turns it on. Her mother gives her message, flickering out at the end. Leia leans forward and presses the repeat button.
“I know you did it,” she tells the empty room. “Who else could have figured out? I won’t forget. I’ll have my revenge.”
As she speaks she feels her eyes welling with tears.
Leia adjusts the mask on her face. The eyelenses are cloudy and scratched, and she can feel the strain on her eyes.
The night is cold. A gust of wind rushes past her helmet, screeching in her ears. She shudders despite her father’s thick greatcoat, stiff and uncomfortable on her shoulders. Her blaster has a long butt and she keeps shifting to find a better position, one where it won’t poke into her ribs. The metal is so cold that her fingers are sticking to it. She had a moment of panic earlier when it seemed like the skin would come off. Someone coughs; she starts and kicks involuntarily, sending up a cloud of ash.
“Enemy sniper a hundred metres away,” someone whispers.
How do they know that? Leia wonders. Her own scanner is blank. She looks through the sight on her blaster and sees nothing but desolate no-mans land, coloured green by night-vision. For a split second of fear she thinks she sees movement by a heap of ash, underneath a jagged stretch of electric wire—but again, her scanner is blank.
Nobody knows she is here, not even her father. She is probably the most irresponsible senator in the galaxy. But that only reflects badly on the people who voted for her, she thinks. Over the past few months she has embarrassed herself to such a degree that she suspects her advisors are planning to get rid of her. Leia wouldn’t mind easing them of the responsibility. She is incredibly angry. She can’t deal with the ineptness of the Senate, the political intrigues of Imperial Centre. The only place that still feels right is the rebel front. Here, at least, she can express her anger exactly as she feels it.
The Rebellion organised this assault a month ago. Leia was heavily involved in its planning. It was only last week, however, that she decided to fight, her identity disguised by a vocoder and mask. They are defending the republican rights of the independent city of Nilreb, which refused to join the Imperial Alliance twelve years ago and was subsequently overtaken by force. The people’s memory is not yet erased, however, and the arrival of Rebel forces, if twelve years late, was only inevitable, in their minds; children who witnessed the occupation, now grown up, have prepared for this all their lives. Barricades were erected in the streets, trenches uncovered in the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, the Imperial garrison was just as quick to react. And the city is not as supportive as expected; though many citizens, certainly, are on her side, Leia had assumed that everyone hated the Empire and was shocked to learn that civilians and Loyalist militias are fighting in the Imperial line.
A flash of movement; this time it appears on the scanner. Leia pulls her trigger: the red arc of her laser, brilliant in the dark, flickers out in a mound of ash. She curses, having missed.
Someone is crawling down the line: “Imperial Star Destroyer in the atmosphere.”
“Really?” says the person next to Leia, a recruit who has never fought in a battle before. Leia hasn’t either. She backs away from the firing line on her stomach—difficult, with her long blaster in the dark—and pulls out binoculars. The eyepieces barely fit over the lenses of her mask. But the focus is sharp; she can see, next to the dim halo of the moon, a Star Destroyer and a swarm of TIES.
“TIE fighters too,” she says, and the recruit shivers. “We don’t have enough guns,” he says.
“Sure we do,” Leia says sharply. “Do you think we didn’t plan for this? We have X-wings as well.”
“Move into the dugouts,” says the whisper down the line.
Leia longs for an opportunity to make up for her missed shot; the dugouts are for cowards, she thinks. The rest of the line is crawling back. Leia watches them with derision, her mind made up: she will stay out until the TIES are closer, at least. She snuggles up to her blaster, peering through the sight. No movement, and the scanner is empty.
Suddenly the ground is being raked by green laser fire. A cloud of ash bursts into her mask—hot, melting the plastic: she raises her gloved hands in panic to clear it away. Huge, roaring engine noise, the streaking, high-pitched sound of lasers, the pitter-patter of earth raised by gunshot clattering to the ground, the slow, mushrooming sound of an explosion—she is suddenly sweating, teeth chattering. A TIE passes overhead with incredible noise. She shoots at it—nicks its wing. Her ears are pounding, swimming and her scanner is shaking on the ground and she notices about a hundred blips of soldiers moving forward. She abandons her blaster and throws herself at a dugout door. “They’re rushing our line!” she shrieks. “Get back to your guns!”
“Get back to your guns!” is the echo down the line.
She can’t find her gun; the hot ash burned into her lenses—she didn’t notice before— without the light of her scanner she can barely see. She stumbles forward, trips on a canteen, falls. Someone grabs her roughly and guides her to the line. But she has no blaster, she screams, no blaster! Stand up and fight, he yells—as if she were a coward from the dug-out! Her hands scrabble over her face—she can see them, glowing ghostly green in the laser-light—tear off the mask. Who cares if she’s seen. Her blaster is nowhere in sight. Someone must have grabbed it. Enemy soldiers are bearing down, ten metres away, shooting as they run. She watches fighters from her own line jump out of the trench to meet them. An enormous explosion lights up the sky, outlining their bodies. A Stormtrooper in white armour aims directly at her head. She throws herself down just in time, feeling the heat of the laser passing over her head.
A blaster, a blaster, she needs a blaster. She picks herself up and starts running down the line. Without her mask she has no night-vision. Everything is much more confusing. She falls over someone’s leg—he doesn’t protest, doesn’t move. Leia tastes blood on her lips. She isn’t disgusted. She sees a blaster in the dead man’s arms and kicks him in the chest to get it out of his grip. He rolls away softly. She pauses for a moment, puzzled, before rushing forward, the cold blaster hugged tightly to her chest. Her lips are sticky with blood.
She senses the blast coming before she sees it—dives down and skids onto her elbows. Ash blows up into her face. She’s blinded! coughing—and then there’s a great rush of sound, as if all the sound in the world were collected into a jar and let out at once—she’s dizzy, nauseated, cannot see—there’s a stab of fierce pain in her side—agony!
The Stormtrooper carries the rebel into the medical bay. Someone identified her as a senator—too important to die anonymously. She would have a pretty face if it weren’t twisted in agony. He avoids looking at the wound on her side, and wonders what the world has come to, putting women in a war.
“Anyone else?” says the medic.
“No one alive,” says the Stormtrooper.
“All right, you’re dismissed. –Wait.” The medic is looking at the rebel with an odd look on his face. “That’s Princess Leia. Why didn’t you say so before?”
“Nevermind. Inform Lord Vader that Princess Leia has been captured. I think he’ll find this interesting.”
“Lord Vader,” Leia spits, her voice cracked with fever. She struggles to sit up, but the nerves in her side burst with pain—her mouth fills with saliva, her muscles go slack, and she falls back. Vader says nothing. When Vader was merely a figment of her imagination, Leia imagined that she knew him; facing him now, she realises that she knows nothing about him. Through the cloud of fever and hatred she trembles, slightly, with fear.
“I have diplomatic immunity,” she tries again, realising that he is not going to speak. “You have no idea why I was in Nilreb. The reason I was in Nilreb,” she adds quickly, “was to observe the fighting. I wanted to see for myself exactly what war entails, mainly to confirm to myself the wisdom of Alderaanian pacifism.”
“And what have you learned?”
Leia starts at Vader’s question. “What have I learned?... that war is not as glorious as it sounds.” She grits her teeth at a swell of pain from her side. “Isn’t it obvious? I’ve been wounded and humiliated.”
“It is not apparent that you have learned anything,” Vader says.
“What do you want me to say?” Leia asks in bewilderment. She had expected interrogation, threats, a prison cell. That’s still to come, she reminds herself, but she wishes that the mask conveyed emotions or thoughts. Vader is unpredictable, she has realised.
“The Rebellion will not bring freedom,” he says. “Freedom is only for the few, those who can handle the immense responsibility. The greatest gift that can be given the galaxy is not freedom, but communality. If every being were organised into a universal whole, then there might be peace, and from peace—happiness.”
“Peace and happiness are not possible when half of this galaxy is enslaved and the other half is rich and corrupt.”
“Something must be done.”
Leia blinks. Through glazed eyes she stares at Vader, who doesn’t seem real. “You believe that?”
Vader turns away. Leia sinks further into her pillow, her mind whirling. The doors to the medical bay suddenly spring open and the medic, smartly dressed in green, salutes Vader.
Vader’s slow, regular breathing grates on her ears, still sensitive from battlefield noise, and the addition of the medic’s nasal voice to Vader’s breathing and the hum of the feeding tube in her arm, and her discomfort, and the powerful overhead lights, brings tears to her eyes. She closes them as the medic nears, an instrument in hand, to check her temperature.
Leia hears footsteps. Vader is leaving.
“How much longer shall I treat her, my lord?”
The footsteps pause. “Until the pain recedes.”
The door hisses open, and Vader leaves.
When Leia wakes next, in a disoriented haze, she has a new visitor.
“Good morning, Princess! Fancy seeing you here.”
“Piett?” she says groggily, opening her eyes and closing them. Her nose clears before her eyes, and she smells his clean, close shave. He seems both pleased and agitated to see her.
“I suppose senators really do come aboard ship,” he says gaily, though his eyes are troubled. “I must admit, you’re the first I’ve ever seen.”
“Could I have a tour?” she asks unthinkingly.
“Of the medical bay? Of course! Are you feeling well enough to walk?” He offers his arm.
“No,” she admits, suddenly saddened. She and Piett are separated by a gulf, it seems, divided by gargantuan ideological differences. And yet he still respects her dignity. Would she react so gallantly if he were her prisoner?
“I’m an awful person,” she bursts out, her eyes prickling with tears. “It’s…very good of you to…”
“Nonsense,” Piett says. “We all make mistakes.”
“Making errors—that’s what existence means. Our bodies, this galaxy, none of them are perfect. You are in no way different; and, for that matter, you are in no way awful.”
Leia wipes her eyes. “You’re very philosophical.”
“I have faith,” he says simply, then reaches out and pats her arm. “Don’t worry, Princess—you’ll be fine. There’s nothing you’ve done that can’t be repaired.”
“Thanks,” she says, warming with feeling. Suddenly she remembers Hoeldin, who loves Piett, and in the clutch of good feeling she laughs: a bright sound. “I can’t believe I forgot—you and Hoeldin have my congratulations. She sent me a note about two weeks ago.”
Piett blushes. “I’m very happy,” Leia adds. “I think you couldn’t have done better, and I know she feels the same way.”
Piett takes her hands in his own, his eyes shining. “Thank you,” he says. “I can’t thank you enough.”
She feels a part of her wither away when he leaves.
“You’re well enough to walk,” the medic says brusquely, detaching the feeding tube with a yank. Leia’s hand flies to her arm in protest; then she sways with dizziness. “Come on, sit up. You want to get out of bed, don’t you?”
Leia doubles over the bed and throws up her breakfast.
“Maybe not,” the medic says in alarm, pushing her back into the bed. “Maybe we’ll have to use a bacta tank after all.”
“Does my father know?” she asks Vader the moment he steps into the room. It has been a week since she last saw him; she has slipped in and out of fevers and dizzy spells since. Now for the first time she is feeling alert—perhaps because she has worked herself into an excitement over his return. Something must be done, he had said the last time, and she wants to know what he meant. His helmet glances light in several directions—and, for just a moment, she feels the perverse fascination for his suit that she always used to feel as a child.
“Your father believes you are hiding on Nilreb. He knows, of course, that you planned it and were fighting there.”
Leia has always suspected that Vader knew her role in the rebellion. She explodes with pent-up resentment. “If you know so much, then why are you keeping me alive? You could kill me like my mother.”
“Your mother killed herself.”
Vader is watching her, goading her, she thinks—she is speechless. Anger has gathered over her throat, like a stormcloud, and prevents her from speaking; anger, and disbelief, and fear. “How dare you,” she manages to whisper.
“You may consult the record,” Vader says. “She was warned by the militia when and where the palace would be bombed. All personnel were evacuated—she was the only casualty.”
“Believe what you want,” he says coldly.
Frightened, Leia grips her bedcover until her knuckles turn white. “What do you want from me?”
But Vader has already turned away. She has a feeling that she will never see him again; she can feel his fury charging the room.
“Please—“ she cries, suddenly desperate, impelled by a stronger force within. “Don’t go yet.”
Vader pauses, but does not turn. His cape flutters, smooths itself against the back of his boots. “We are close to Alderaan,” he says. “I will order a shuttle to take you back to your father.”
“I don’t want to see my father. I want to see those records you claim to have.”
“You want to stay?”
“For the time being,” Leia says, surprising herself. “But you must promise me that when I’m ready, you’ll let me go.”
An extraordinary request for a prisoner, she thinks, but that he was willing to let her go in the first place was also extraordinary. “Agreed,” he says. He faces her, breathing heavy. Leia imagines his puzzlement—she is as much an enigma to him as he to her, perhaps. They look at each other for a moment, Leia with her eyes wide, the air charged around her. He breaks gaze first.
“You will have to return to being senator someday,” he reminds her. Leia has been working steadily through the Imperial information network—a limited version censored by Vader himself; she has no illusions about bias—reading about her mother, the official reports of her death, the unofficial reports submitted by witnesses. She does not trust Vader, and suspects that he indulges her passion for research as part of some larger plan. But there are documents here that she has never seen anywhere else, messages from secret agents, intercepted signals from the rebellion, that give her an indication of the strengths and weaknesses of the Imperial information machine. She tells herself this is the reason to postpone her senatorial duty, and meeting with her father.
“I’ll leave in a week,” she says. Vader is rarely around while she sifts through the databases, but Leia always sees him during the evening. The rest of the ship assumes that his visits are interrogation sessions. “Why aren’t you torturing me yet?” she asks sometimes. He seldom speaks, except to ask what she has learned. He has never mentioned the rebellion or explained his cryptic statement—Something must be done, Leia thinks it was. She catches herself watching him closely, half-expecting him to drop a republicanism or betray his secret allegiance. But he is always the same, except for slight shifts in mood—less angry than yesterday, or brooding, or unusually interested in what she has to say, for example. The shifts are so minute that Leia has developed sensitivity to the larger shifts in other people, like the medic, who still checks up on her, or Piett, who occasionally stops by for a visit. Piett thinks she’s being tortured, and sneaks her napkins of sweets to ease his guilty conscience. Leia does not disabuse him of the notion—she even enjoys pretending weariness or mental breakdown. She has never had such attention in her life; in some ways, she prefers being a prisoner on an Imperial ship to living in a luxurious palace on Alderaan.
Vader is pacing. Leia knows better than to ask him questions. She has noticed that he is perpetually restless, moving or giving orders or working on a project, rarely able to enter a moment without doing something in it. His suit is incredibly heavy—she is tempted to ask him about it, the source of fascination throughout her childhood—but though it makes his movements clumsy in some respect, he also carries a strange grace, a lightness in his fingers that is mesmerising to watch. Once, the monitor of her computer terminal burned out, and he fixed it while she watched. She was thrilled at his familiarity with instruments, his fluid, deliberate strokes, by how quickly he was finished. She watches him rest his fingers on his belt and tap on it impatiently. She is dying for him to speak.
Suddenly he stops pacing. “Princess,” he says haltingly. Leia looks into his mask, and wishes it showed emotion. “I hope you have learned from this experience. There are greater forces involved in your mother’s death, for example—“ Leia closes her eyes, but does not protest, “than you thought. There are great powers in this Empire that you have yet to encounter, much more powerful and influential than your father and I.” Leia is surprised by the comparison. Her father is inconsequential next to Vader.
“It is true,” Vader says, sensing her surprise. “But Princess, you are still young. Look at how far you have come. You will lead a new generation, full of promise. It is your generation that this Empire needs and has been waiting for. The current government is filled with men who lack ideals, who do not think or care about the consequences of their policies. But you are different. You will be powerful someday—powerful enough to bring peace and order to the galaxy.”
Leia stirs with shock and wonder; Vader has praised her lavishly, has been more open with her than she expects he’s ever been in his life—and yet she cannot help feeling suspicious. “But what about you?”
Vader looks at her for a long moment, as if he thinks the answer is obvious, perhaps, or as if he has so many answers swirling through his head that he cannot decide which one to voice. “I must obey the Emperor,” he says finally. “But I will assist you to the best of my ability.”
“And the rebellion?”
“Abandon it,” he says. “The Empire has the resources to unite the galaxy. It is the only legitimate means toward bettering the people’s condition.”
Leia considers. She hates the Empire. Even Imperial-built schools are repulsive. “What if I don’t agree?”
“Think about it,” Vader suggests.
“There are always channels, I suppose…” she muses, trying very hard to imagine a better Empire. She squints at her fingers, and imagines clasping them together in the Senate while giving a poignant and influential speech on ending the plague in the Depths.
Vader tilts his head, suddenly, as if listening to a sound through one ear. Leia is pulled from her fantasy in time to watch him slide into a trance. “I must go,” he says abruptly, straightening.
She jumps to her feet, not ready to be alone. “When will you be back?”
“When you have given adequate thought to what I said,” he says.
Leia’s heart is pounding; she is trembling with feeling. She believes him. She wants to please him. She wants to make the galaxy a better place. He didn’t kill her mother; her mother killed herself. Was it because she had lost hope? She watches him turn away and her heart twists with disappointment. She runs to him, longing for approval, electrified and impulsive.
“You promise to assist me to the best of your ability?”
Vader looks down at her. He is much larger, much taller when she stands this close, and she can hear the whirring of his iron lung beneath his loud breathing. The mask gleams, all sharp angles—she thinks she can see, through the shaded eyelenses, the dark outline of his eyes. He smells of oil and leather. “Yes,” he says. Leia gives him her hand. She isn’t thinking; and yet she is, has never been so thoughtful in all her life. After a moment’s hesitation, he shakes it. She is overwhelmed by the cool smoothness of his glove.
He lets go first. She stares at her palm, where he touched her. The door opens and shuts. She only realises he is gone when she can no longer hear the sound of his breathing.
Time passes. Leia returns to Alderaan and resumes her work, to her father’s immense joy. At first she thinks of Vader constantly, throwing herself into her studies because that is what she did when she was with him, and that is what he wants her to do. She travels constantly, visiting rural towns to meet with the people, giving speeches in schools and hospitals, for an audience of undergraduates at Aldera University. Piett returns from his deployment on the Devastator and marries Hoeldin. Leia is the ladies-maid at the wedding; she wears a beautiful dress, and dances with Piett at the reception. He tells her that the Devastator will not be deployed for several months, that Vader is on a mission for the Emperor. For days afterward, her mind lingers on Vader. She remembers him—vividly. She longs to speak with him and to hear him speak in return. Her father comments on her rising popularity in the polls, but it isn’t the same, hearing compliments from him.
Eventually, she forgets about Vader altogether. The Empire is building a secret weapon, and spies claim that it will be able to destroy entire planets. For Leia, this is a last straw. She has tried to work through Imperial channels, as Vader suggested, and there has been progress, but not as much as she would like. The Rebellion is her father’s brainchild, and it has come a long way since Nilreb. It surrounds her; it is only natural that she should become involved. She begins to play an active role alongside Mon Mothma, an older senator who has been in office since the Old Republic. They work in the same office and share a holovid; Mothma likes to keep it on in the day. Sometimes, news involving Vader comes on, but though Leia will watch, it no longer has the mesmerising power it once did. She turns back to the Rebellion, and forgets that he would disapprove. Whenever she sees Hoeldin and Piett, they speak of other things, often never mentioning Vader at all.
Leia is thinking about how to negotiate the theft of the Death Star’s plans through a spy channel when she is interrupted by a knock on her door. She starts, nearly dropping the datapad in her hand, and checks her desk for incriminating documents. Mothma isn’t here; her desk seems normal enough. “Coming,” she calls, tucking the datapad into her robes.
The door leaps open. Leia is surprised for a second time. “Aloysia!” she exclaims, stepping back to better see her rival’s blue robes. Delicate, stiff with embroidery. “It’s been so long!”
“Leia,” Aloysia says in her sweet voice, kissing her cheek. She still smells of powder, though it no longer sticks to Leia’s lips when she kisses back. Her hair is plaited in a braid that sits on top of her head—Leia eyes it carefully, noting the small details she would need to try it herself. Aloysia’s white fingers sport a wedding band. Leia asks about it, though she knows quite well that Aloysia eloped with a painter, rejecting Philus, whose second opera was not quite as successful as the first—though it was, in Leia’s opinion, just as beautiful.
Aloysia asks about the Senate. How terribly long the days of a politican are! she exclaims, before Leia has finished. Unbelievable to think how Leia could stand it! Has Leia seen her new opera?
“No, I haven’t—“
“Philus wrote the music, you know. He’s terribly talented, writes especially for me, for he adores the sound of my voice. But the public doesn’t quite understand him—he’s taken to the radical in his music, and some won’t stand for it. The people that pay, understand. After this opera I’m going to break my contract with him. There’s a lovely young man—have you heard of Nitram Solér? Well, his last opera was very popular in the Middle Rim, and he’s coming here to perform it.”
“I think you should continue singing for Philus,” Leia says, irritated by Aloysia’s complete lack of loyalty to the man who made her career. She remembers Philus, with his small hands, announcing the latest piece he had written for Aloysia, and the callous way she rejected him. “I heard Solér’s opera on the listening network, and it was musically quite inferior to Philus’.”
“Musically, perhaps. But consider the money—“
“It’s your decision, of course,” Leia interrupts. “All I can say is that I greatly admire Philus’ music and think it has a place in posterity, whereas Solér’s opera, at least the one I heard, will be popular for ten years before people start to realise it doesn’t have any depth. I’m not the only person who feels this way.” Specifically, she thinks, her father feels that way.
“Well.” Aloysia has pulled out a miniature fan and flutters it before her face. “I didn’t come here to discuss music, darling.”
“Would you like a seat?”
“No, I’d rather stand.”
Leia feels like sitting, and pulls out a chair for herself. Aloysia, looking slightly put-out, leans against the wall.
“You do know—“ she says suddenly, “—you do know that my husband is having some trouble.” Leia nods, and Aloysia’s face becomes defensive. “It’s not that he’s lazy. He works very hard! People just don’t appreciate painting as they used to. And opera is making less money than it was. My father isn’t alive to help us, bless his soul.—how difficult it is to be an artist!” she bursts suddenly.
“Do you need a loan?”
Relief colours her face; her eyes shine. “You’re a darling.”
“Of course I’d help you,” Leia says. “Though—“ It occurs to her that she is in the powerful position, the position Aloysia held their entire lives. She thinks of Philus, whose music she worships, and the heartless way Aloysia has treated him—and she wants revenge. “If I give you money, and you wouldn’t have to pay me back if I did, I would expect that you continued your contract with Philus.”
Aloysia reddens. “You can’t make me do that—that would ruin me. There’s no money in Philus. His operas aren’t popular.”
“They’re better,” Leia says calmly. “It’s your interest to sing better music, is it not? Besides, Philus writes for your voice. Solér’s opera was written for a different singer.”
“He’s already agreed to modifying parts for my voice! I can’t let go of this role—if I don’t take this role I’ll be a laughingstock!”
“You’d be a laughingstock if you did,” Leia says. “Now, do you want the money or not?”
Aloysia bursts into tears. Leia does not feel sorry for her. “I’ll write the cheque. See? I’m going to forward it to your account. All you have to do is sign the datapad saying that you won’t break your contract with Philus.” Aloysia, tears streaming over her beautiful face, onto the expensive blue robes, signs the datapad with a trembling hand. She bends over her fan as Leia as she forwards the money to her account, then snaps it shut, wiping her eyes angrily.
“I won’t forget this,” she says in a choked voice, though subdued. Her hands are still trembling, but the rest of her body is curiously still. “In the future, I’ll tell people what you did.”
Leia raises her eyebrows. “I’ve just done you a tremendous favour,” she says.
Later, alone, Leia feels a tinge of remorse. Flopped on her bed, she broods on Aloysia, then Philus—then suddenly, horribly depressed, feels the need to hear his opera, the first one she saw. It takes her over an hour to find her recording. But the music is worth it. It is entrancing. She had forgotten how beautifully Aloysia sang—a wonderful blend of richness and purity—especially in the duet. Two orphaned children—how sad the music is! Leia listens for a long time, listens until she is too groggy to remember, and the first rays of sunlight start poking through her window.
Leia enters a debate against the Alderaanian regional governor, a younger man who studied Administrative Systems at the Academy. The topic is “What Shall Be Done About Hunger?” and is held privately in Imperial Centre. Leia wins, adding the debate to an already dazzling list of triumphs. Her father is extremely pleased, and, at the celebratory dinner, gives her a first glass of champagin. Leia cannot swallow without shuddering at the bitter taste, and does not finish her glass.
Hoeldin, slimmer than ever now that she is married, confesses that she does not like the taste much either, but that Piett sometimes brings fantastic wines from his deployments to different systems, and those Leia should try. Leia looks forward to Piett’s return; he and Hoeldin are the only nice people in Imperial Centre. Hoeldin has given up her post in the Senate in order to teach—politics for high schoolers, she claims—and is searching for a house to buy in the Central District. Leia has seen some of the options. Her favourite is a condominum with blue walls and yellow trim—it feels most like home. Hoeldin prefers a fancier model, but Leia’s enthusiasm for the Blue House, as she calls it, is beginning to persuade her differently.
The next month, Leia enters an essay contest and wins the first prize. She follows up her success with a passionate speech in the Senate that labels her “Lady Freedom” in the celebratory party and, inevitably, the holo networks. Soon her speech is being broadcast throughout the Inner Rim. Her name is on the people’s lips; she can no longer ride in a shuttle without a guard. The networks have programmed cam droids to trail her around, and they film her as she enters important public buildings, bobbing alongside the windows of her shuttles as she flies to and from the Senate. Some even lurk around her bedroom window, as Threepio found out by accident, and she has been forced to set up curtains and screens to maintain her privacy.
Less than a week after her speech and rise in fame, Leia receives a challenge from a prominent senator—Baron Tagge, from the noble House—to enter a public debate. There is no topic: Leia will have to argue her own position as a senator. Considering the experience a good test, and, to an extent, riding on her past success, Leia accepts. For several days before the event, she plunges into research, reading everything she can find on Tagge’s position. Tagge did mention in his challenge that the debate would be filmed. Leia considers every detail of her presence, from her hair to her robes to the accent of her voice. When the date of the debate arrives, she feels too well prepared to be nervous.
Her shuttle lands at the site. Tagge is not yet arrived. Her father, who could not make it to Imperial Centre, wishes her luck from a live holo. Leia steps out of her shuttle to loud cheers—screens have been set up on all levels of the city, and people are watching everywhere, every angle that she turns, from balconies and landing pads—she waves, beaming, at the people. She is led down a carpeted walkway to a silver podium, adjusted for her lack of height. Another has been set up opposite—it has the crest of the House of Tagge stamped on it. Little yellow cam droids drift in the air above her head. She takes in a breath of exhaust-tinged air, thinking about her speech, wondering when Tagge will arrive.
His shuttle swoops in five minutes late; it is an incredibly expensive shuttle, she notices, black and streamlined, with gleaming tinted windows. The first group to exit the shuttle does not include Tagge himself: it is a pair of banner holders and a uniformed band, that arranges around the carpeted walkway and begins to play the fanfare of the House of Tagge. Leia’s mouth feels dry. The people cheer quite loudly, she thinks, as Tagge emerges from his shuttle in a black and gold uniform—perhaps more loudly than they did for her. Her palms begin to sweat. This is her first public debate; this is Tagge’s fifth. The people are fickle. She tries to concentrate on the weaknesses of Tagge’s position, but the obnoxious sound of his personal fanfare cuts into her thinking. Leia cannot bear to look at him, cannot bear the sight of—a young girl tossing him flowers as he passes by on the walkway, swooning as he smiles in her direction. No, Leia grits her teeth. She looks at the VIP table, manned by impassive men—she knows all of them. She looks at the audience, shifting in their seats with excitement, set out like rows of lettuce before her. Tagge grins in her direction as he walks to his podium. It is the grin of a predator expecting to feast on fresh meat.
Leia smiles coldly. An announcer stands before them, introducing them by name and title. Tagge stands confidently by his podium, making a great show of adjusting his cuffs. The announcer turns in her direction and says, since Leia is the defending position, she should open the debate. Leia nods, feeling a surge of confidence. Opening remarks are one of her strengths.
As she brings them to an earnest conclusion, her eyes roving the audience, drinking in their energy and churning it into her own, she sees the dark gleam of a helmet—and nearly stumbles on her last word. Vader. He came to see her, she realises. Her eyes linger on him during the first sentence of Tagge’s responding speech, until to look at him longer would catch the attention of a cam droid, and put her at a disadvantage with Tagge. Her heart is racing. She curls her hand into a fist. She had not expected him to attend. She is almost angry at him for attending—why now, after avoiding her for a year? She has chosen a different path.
She flies at Tagge with the most eloquent argument she has ever constructed in her life—eloquent, but not very sound. Tagge catches the weakness and throws it back at her, almost laughing. She is placed on the defensive. She can feel the audience’s critical gaze, boring into her. Reddening, she conceives of a strong counterargument and delivers it passionately. Tagge, like a nimble dancer, brushes aside her condemnation and picks up a new thread. Leia points out his failure to respond to her argument. They enter a furious, heated debate—Leia being furious and heated, Tagge remaining cool, his voice, if anything, losing volume.
“…only through centralised government will the Empire ever provide the resources people need. Consider the benefits of free healthcare, of state schools! Furthermore, centralisation protects the equality of every citizen. Each is the same as his neighbour, with no abhorrent class differences to speak of—with the exception of the government, a benign and enlightened institution that will provide for the people’s happiness.”
“Let’s be realistic, Baron,” Leia says. “Your plan insists that the people completely give up their rights to an omniscient central power. That smells an awful lot like tyranny. Furthermore, you place great value on equality—except, it seems, as it applies your own noble family. Do you honestly expect citizens to give up all of their power to you and your “enlightened” friends, so that you can run their lives for them and then tell them that, whatever their sufferings, at least they are all equal? And what do you mean by equality, in the first place? Do you mean to say that you intend to deprive each citizen her individuality?—Because the only way to realise your plan of uniform citizenship, by which I mean absolute equality, is to make each and every person the same. Somehow,” she drawls, “I thought the Clone Wars were over.”
“Don’t get carried away,” Tagge says calmly. “Allow me to explain…”
But Leia has won—she sees it in the people’s faces. They are no longer listening to what Tagge has to say. They do not believe his rhetoric that equality is more precious than freedom. They do not believe that a central government is enlightened, or that it should run their daily affairs. Leia has triumphed. She finds herself staring at Vader, challenging him with her eyes. She knows that he believes something similar to Tagge. I’ve come a long way on my own, she thinks to herself; I don’t even need him anymore. The knowledge is thrilling, liberating. She could fly with the birds.
Tagge finishes his argument, but the debate has reached its time limit. Leia gives her closing remarks and has barely finished the last sentence before the audience bursts into applause. Tagge cannot be heard over the noise; as he waits for the audience to calm down, she sees a flash of anger cross his face. Yes, Leia thinks dreamily, we don’t want you…
The debate is formally closed. Admirers from both camps try to swarm the stage, but are held back by line of Stormtroopers. In a majestic gesture, Leia returns to her podium and dismisses the Stormtroopers herself; they do not know whether to obey or not and in their indecision, people break through—as if a dam has opened, or a gate holding slaves has broken down—they flock to her, nerf to nerfherder—she opens her arms. “My people!” she cries, without thinking. “Lady Freedom!” calls a child, waving the Alderaanian flag . . .
“Much like Senator Amidala,” mutters Grand Moff Tarkin, standing next to Darth Vader “Do you remember her, Vader? The people loved her in the same way.”
The princess greeting a crowd of people, the princess opening her arms, in her white robes like a saviour—for a moment, Tarkin sees the reflections in Vader’s eyelenses. “We’ll have to keep a closer eye on her. The Emperor tells me you have influence with her. I’d like you to watch her closely, Vader. If she gets out of hand, she could start a rebellion.”
Vader stirs, like a slumbering beast. “She is the rebellion,” he says.
“If she does not pull back,” Tarkin says, “find a way to incriminate her.”
Vader is still watching the princess. “As you wish,” he says.
Hoeldin comes on a congratulatory visit, Piett with her. To Leia’s surprise, neither of them seem too pleased with her victory.
“But was that last bit necessary, Leia?” Hoeldin asks.
“What last bit?”
“The part with the Stormtroopers and the people. Really, Leia, it seemed like you were trying to be some kind of messiah figure. I had no idea what to make of it.”
“I’m worried for your safety,” Piett says. For the first time, Leia notices pouches under his eyes. “The House of Tagge, for instance, won’t forget this easily. And the group of officers who I was with have already started betting on how many weeks it will take before your arrest.”
“You’ve got to be more careful, Leia.”
Leia is bewildered. “But nothing I said was revolutionary.”
“The Moffs certainly thought so,” Hoeldin says. “The military runs this galaxy, you know that. They see you as a threat.”
“If a simple debate is considered a threat, then this galaxy is in terrible condition, isn’t it?” she protests. “The Moffs benefit from my presence. If I weren’t here to throw their policies in their faces then people would start to wonder where their freedom of speech had gone! I’m a counterrevolutionary force, really.”
Piett shakes his head. Hoeldin says, “That’s not the perception.”
Leia frowns, then notices a cam droid hovering by the window. Shaken, she slams down the blinds. “I won’t debate any more,” she says, trailing away from the window. “Will that make you happy?”
“Why don’t we just have a good time?” she says in despair. “Let’s go to a restaurant. We can be serious later.”
“There might be assassins,” Hoeldin whispers, her face pale.
“Nobody is stupid enough to make a martyr out of me tonight,” Leia declares. She catches Piett by the hands and tries to make him dance—he takes a few reluctant steps. “Please?”
Hoeldin looks at Piett. Both have miserable looks on their faces. “What?” Leia demands, her heart sinking.
Hoeldin draws her hand from Piett’s and moves over to a vase. The flowers within are withered and dry; she touches the tips of them with nimble fingers, so that they tremble. “Leia, part of the reason we came is because it simply isn’t good for Firmus to be seen with you any more.” Firmus. Piett’s first name. The fact tumbles out of her mind; like the loose snow that is followed by an avalanche, her thoughts crumble apart, into a hazy, horrified mush. “As an officer on Vader’s ship it could be very dangerous if he were perceived to have connections with the rebellion.”
“But you know that isn’t true!” Leia exclaims, desperate enough to lie.
“We don’t know that,” Piett says. “To tell the truth, it’s become harder and harder to tell where you stand these days.”
“Don’t blame Firmus,” Hoeldin says. “This was my suggestion. Vader reads minds, Leia. Did you know that he executes men for the pettiest crimes? You didn’t know that?”
“You have nothing to fear from Vader,” Leia says. “Vader likes me. He wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that you’re a rebel just because we’re friends.”
“Vader tortured you!”
“No, he did not,” Leia says—the first time she has told anyone. “Though he let everyone think he did. The entire time I was supposed to be interrogated he let me read the unofficial reports on my mother’s death, in order to prove to me that he wasn’t involved.”
Piett is stunned. “Impossible,” he whispers.
“This just proves that Vader is more capricious than we thought,” Hoeldin says grimly, covering for his shock. “Look Leia, this isn’t easy on any of us. But it has to be done. We have to go,” she tells Piett gently, shaking his arm.
“I can’t believe it,” Piett tells Leia, oblivious to her shaking. “Surely he wanted something else?”
Leia is longing to tell him, to tell him about the deal with Vader that she had, until today, completely forgotten; but she is held back by something, her conscience, perhaps. She had looked at Vader today and scorned him, she thinks. Her past with him is nothing more than a memory.
“No,” she says quietly. “He had a path for me in mind, but I did not take it.”
“Goodbye, Leia,” Hoeldin says. She is looking worriedly at the outline of a cam droid, visible through the blinds.
Leia turns her back on them as they leave. Only Piett looks back, still dazed by her confession.
Leia is sobbing on the private holo line. “…and they just left,” she finishes.
Her father—Bail—he is never one and never both—frowns. His blue hologram paces on Leia’s desk, hands behind his back. His back is developing a permanent hunch, Leia notices. “Personally, I’d say the debate was a triumph. My only advice is to lay low for a while. Besides, Leia—if they felt it in their interests not to be associated with you, it is only in your own interest as well. Several of our party have expressed concerns that you are too friendly with Imperials.”
“This shouldn’t be so black and white,” Leia hisses. “One is not good or evil depending on whether one is a Rebel or an Imperial.”
“On the battlefield, it’s all that matters.”
“In war, perhaps. What about human dignity? Why can’t we treat each other like people? Why must everyone join a cause?”
He sighs. The graininess of hologram technology accentuates the lines around his mouth. “You’re being unreasonable.”
She wants to scream at him and his complacency. She feels vividly, so terribly vividly—like a curse, and he does not understand. He cannot grasp that she feels the sorrows and tremors of the rest of the galaxy. Her body trembles with their emotions. “I think I’ll go to bed, then,” she says, as if from outside herself. Her voice is hollow to her own ears.
“Good idea. I know it’s hard to lose your friends. But consider your victory. In the long run, which will affect more lives?”
“That’s my girl.” Leia nods. Bail smiles as his hologram flickers out.
Piett, Hoeldin, her father. Is there nobody who understands her? Peering through the blinds at busy Imperial Centre, Leia is struck by a dizzy feeling, the desire for death. She gazes at the Depths and imagines hurtling down to their lowest level.
It does not take him long to find her.
How different she looks from that day!—when she had practically glowed with success and love for fellow man. She had worn the usual white, but rather than being the drab same as everyone else, white had defined her, given her an outline. She had stood in the middle of thousands of people, white, pure, and victorious. It was no wonder the people had given her a nickname.
But now she is downcast. Vader can sense her depression; it is a sensation familiar to him. Her mind is shut in by thick walls. For he moment he wonders if the walls are so thick that she will not even notice his presence. But she sees him—yes, her eyes are narrowed, and there is recognition in the Force. There must be a crack in the walls that he did not see. He stands very still, covering the sound of his breathing with the Force. She makes her way to him slowly.
“You took your time,” she says sourly—the first words she has said to him in over a year. A remarkable girl. “I thought you were supposed to help me, remember?”
“You did not need me before,” he says. “Now you are ready.” He scans the room constantly—it is someone’s party, a celebration of the successful first performance of Nitram Solér’s opera in Imperial Centre. Most of the participants are dancing or drunk.
“I hate these people,” Leia says unexpectedly. “I hate this music, these courtiers. You know the lead soprano? I wasn’t going to let her sing in this opera, but then I caved in.” She shudders at something within. “What a joke.”
“I do not care to remain here,” Vader says. Someone brushes by his leg, not realising who he is, smelling of sweat and dancing furiously, and he recoils in disgust.
“I can’t be seen leaving with you. And there’s nowhere else to be.” For the first time he notices the drink in her hand.
“Put that away.”
Leia had raised her drink to her lips, intending to take a sip, but now she lowers it. He pleases her, he knows. She is excited by the danger he presents, the challenge. He sees the spark of life returning to her dulled eyes. “Yes, daddy,” she mocks.
“Follow me,” he commands.
“How do I know this isn’t a trap?”
“Search your feelings,” he says vaguely, stepping over a discarded dress on the floor. Leia leaps over it, her interest building.
“I nearly forgot about you,” she accuses, her attention solely on him. They walk rapidly through an unlit hallway. Since party noises are growing steadily fainter, Leia assumes they are nearing the landing pad and with it, Vader’s shuttle. “You completely disappeared from my life. Why?”
Vader does not respond. Leia supposes he is concentrated on slipping past the cam droid at the door without being seen. She gives the droid a stony glare worthy of Vader, then skips past it, onto the landing pad and the warm night air. She is sweating profusely through a thin gown. She wonders if Vader has noticed. She feels rejuvenated, personally, to be with him. How thrilling to run away from a glamorous party with Darth Vader! She has missed him, she realises. This is the second time she has completely forgotten about him, only to be reunited and realise how stupid she has been.
But, a voice within her cautions, you aren’t his protogé. You’re not going to follow the path he wants you to follow. She can’t abandon the Rebellion now, she thinks.
“I have something to show you,” he says, his profile brilliantly outlined by the neon lights of the city, millions of buildings and lights stretched before the landing pad. The control pad on his chest glows brightly; the rest of him is dark, mysterious. “It is in space.”
“First you must answer my question,” she says.
“On the way,” he counters. She accepts, admittedly eager to see the inside of his shuttle (an ordinary lambda-class, from the outside), and whatever it is in space that he has to show her.
It feels strange to enter his shuttle—forbidden, perhaps. Leia’s first reaction when he opens the door is to run away. She is not afraid, but she knows instinctively that Vader will never extend this privilege to anyone else. She enters the shuttle like it is an inner sanctum, a sacred place, even though she has used dozens of lambda-class shuttles before. She is awed to be alone with Vader in his shuttle, to be allowed to sit next to him in the cockpit. She says nothing as they lift off from the landing pad, and only turns to watch Imperial Centre recede from the side window.
“I can’t believe it’s all city,” she says, meaning the planet, and instantly regrets the stupidity of her remark. Vader says nothing. He is a good pilot, she realises. Watching him fly is as thrilling as it was to watch him fix her monitor. Suddenly, she is bursting with memories—things she wants to say to him—all the things only he could understand. He would understand what it is like to look at the Depths and want to hurtle into them. He would understand the depth of her feelings. But each time she thinks of something to say it only sounds stupid in her mind—stupid and childish, the last thing Vader wants to here. She only remembers the question he promised to answer when they have left the atmosphere, and there is nothing but stars and space.
“There are both a simple and complicated answer to your question. Both are true. Which do you prefer?”
“Both,” she says.
Vader does not answer for a moment, and the cockpit fills with the sound of his breathing and the shuttle streaking through space. “The simple answer is this: I was busy. The complicated answer is that you were not ready, as I have already said. I needed you to be ready. Also, the circumstances were not ideal.”
“Why am I ready now?” Leia says. A drive within her forces her to be honest, to elaborate. “I didn’t choose the path you set for me. I’m hardly what you expected.”
“On the contrary,” he says, but falls silent.
Leia is calm. She listens for a long time and admires the stars, the blackness of space. It is an extraordinary experience to sit in a cockpit with space stretched before you. She breathes in the cold air of the shuttle, savouring the pressurised taste and the tingle of sweat drying on her skin. Vader suddenly reaches forward, pulls a lever—there is a lurch, a revving noise, and then the stars burst into lines of light right before her, wheeling and flashing, fading into the blue whorls of hyperspace.
“Where are we going?”
“To the Death Star,” Vader says. “You must see it.”
Leia’s eyes bulge; the seat-belt cannot contain her in her chair. She wriggles around to face Vader. “I thought it was supposed to be secret!”
“It is. I am breaking the rules.”
“But—why? I mean,” she adds quickly, “I already know that it exists.”
“Then why do I need to see it?”
Vader stares out the cockpit window. The cabin light is off, and the dim blue of hyperspace dances in the hollows of his mask, in shimmering patches on his leather suit. His breathing is soft, the only sound in the cabin besides her own. When he does speak, his voice, though reflective, interrupts the silence so harshly that Leia almost wishes he had never spoken.
“The Death Star has the power to destroy planets,” he says. “If it were activated—the atrocities would be unspeakable.” Leia senses that he wants to add something else, but is restraining himself. “You, princess, feel the same way. And though I will never agree with your Rebellion, I cannot deny that it is the only way to destroy the Death Star.”
“There is no one else important enough in the Empire who agrees with you?”
Suddenly it occurs to her—“Are you giving me its plans?” she asks with disbelief.
“No. You will get the plans. I will merely turn the other way.”
Leia is dumbfounded. “How will I get the plans?” she asks in a small voice.
“That depends on what we find on the Death Star. Never fear, princess,” he says, and she is astounded to hear some lightness in his voice, “you shall not be alone.”
From a distance, the Death Star looks like a moon. As they draw nearer, its size becomes sickening. Leia is forced to close her eyes. Vader flies a straight course into a landing bay the size of the Imperial Palace. She is disgusted, and saddened, that such a monstrosity could have escaped the flights of human imagination. She finds herself shaking as the shuttle shudders to a halt, and tells herself not merely from the shock of leaving the heat of Imperial Centre for the iciness of Vader’s shuttle, or from the lightness of her gown.
A troupe of Imperial guards have formed a welcoming line for Vader. Although she knows he has nothing to do with the Death Star, she finds it difficult to look at him. Difficult to acknowledge what atrocities he himself has committed. But he seems to approve her discomfort.
“Good,” he says, and then, without explaining himself, adds: “Wait here. The welcoming party will disperse shortly. I will tell you when to come out.”
“Is that all of your plan?” Leia asks incredulously.
Vader looks at her for a moment, as if unable to decide whether she will be able to handle the truth that, yes, that is the extent of his plan. Then he turns away and sweeps out the shuttle. Leia processes his departure, already deeply confused. She hears the hiss of the shuttle’s entrance ramp as it descends. Suddenly curious, she le,ans over the instruments in the cockpit, afraid to be seen, yet interested in watching real Imperial welcome.
Stormtroopers stand in two glistening white lines, absolutely motionless—in front of them is a row of officers dressed in black or green, armed with pistols—and there, standing at the head of them, is Admiral Motti, whom Leia recognises from a senator’s ball. His wife is a senator, she thinks. He is an arrogant man, from a wealthy family that openly supported the Empire even before the dust of the Old Republic could manage to settle. Leia can imagine him arguing for the creation of the Death Star. Suddenly, it is clear why Vader thinks that the Rebellion is the only way to destroy it—there are simply too many powerful admirals and Moffs who support its existence.
I wonder, she thinks, if he hopes that by destroying the Death Star, people like Motti will be destroyed too.
Vader strides between the lines of troops, black helmet gleaming—cloak swirling—now he speaks to Motti, who is unsurprised to see him, as if this visit were planned—they speak for a seemingly long time, though in retrospect Leia thinks it was short—and Motti turns to leave, and the Stormtroopers and officers turn to leave with him. Vader returns to the shuttle, as if this is his normal behaviour.
She springs up when she hears his footsteps. “Now what?”
“Do not get so excited.” He pauses. “We will have to dress you as a mechanic.”
“This shuttle contains spare uniforms. They are in one of the boxes.” He seems to be thinking, and then suddenly a box bursts out of a closet and lands at Leia’s feet. She yelps in fright—
that’s the Force! she thinks
--and accidentally stumbles into Vader. He lets her catch her breath before pushing her away.
“Put on a costume,” he says.
Leia opens the box gingerly, as afraid to touch something of Vader’s as she is afraid he might use the Force again, as some joke. A costume, he’d said, as if she were dressing for carnival. She lifts the first uniform out of the box and straightens it with careful, precise hands.
“It’s too big.”
“No one will see.”
Leia begs to differ: she knows the standards of Imperial dress from hearing Piett, most fastidious man alive, complain about them. For a moment she is saddened, thinking of Piett. Then she slips into the large mechanic’s uniform without bothering to take off her dress. Vader does not even give her a cursory glance before he starts toward the ramp.
“Wait!” she cries. “My hair!”
He does not respond. Thankfully her hair is piled on top of her head—rummaging frantically through the box, she finds a lopsided cap and slaps it on her head. Vader is already halfway across the hangar bay. She runs out after him, gasping for breath.
“Don’t do that again!” she wheezes. “We have to work—together—or—both—of us will be killed!”
He leads her through a maze of black, gleaming hallways into a large green elevator. So far no-one has given her a glance—but what will they think when they see such a short mechanic trailing Darth Vader? She would ask him, for they are alone in the elevator, but she suspects that their progress is being filmed. The elevator is stuffy, despite its high ceiling; she is glad when they are back in the hallways again, despite the likelihood of running into people. Occasionally groups of Stormtroopers run past in some kind of exercise, but Leia finds individual officers more nervewracking—they like to watch Vader as he passes by, and she is certain they notice her as well, even though she takes pains to walk at a slower pace and at a considerable distance from Vader. When Vader finally stops before a tall metal door, she feels that her nerves are about to collapse; and once the door closes behind them and she realises that she is standing in a claustrophobically small room with nearly every available space taken up by a black hyperbaric chamber, smelling of pungent steriliser—she nearly faints.
Vader opens the chamber without using any controls. It comes apart like a flower, spiky petals opening out. Though the outside of the chamber was black, the inside is blinding white. There is a chair in the centre and, to the side, a computer terminal. Without even asking, Leia collapses into the chair.
“Here is the plan,” Vader says. Leia has a feeling that he came up with it on the elevator. “You already know how to use the Imperial Network. But your use of it cannot be traced to this room.” These are his quarters, Leia realises. “Therefore, I will give you the code for the Death Star plans—once I’ve found them—and you will enter it into a different terminal, then download the plans from there. In the meantime, I will generate enough programming noise to hide your activity. Then we will leave.”
Leia does not understand why Vader could not do this himself. She suspects him, for the first time, of deceiving her. “Why do I have to do this?”
“Because the plan requires two computers to work.”
“Fine,” Leia says. “I still don’t see why you couldn’t use the Force to do it.”
Vader is silent. He walks over to the computer terminal and stares at it. After watching him curiously for a moment, Leia realises that he must be searching its databanks with his mind. The moment, with his long, sighing breathing, his black mask and suit contrasting vividly against the blinding white walls, his contemplative stillness—impresses itself deeply in her mind.
Vader suddenly stirs, telling her the code. She is surprised by how easily she remembers it when he asks her to recite it back.
“I will take you to the computer terminal you should use.”
“What about a disc? I need a disc to download the plans.” He hands her one silently. “And what if I’m caught?”
“I will know,” he says, with a solemnity that also impresses upon her deeply. And then she is on her feet and they are marching to the elevator, waiting on it as it descends several floors, then marching through the black, gleaming hallways filled with Stormtroopers and officers whose gazes linger too long, and small cleaning droids that zip past their feet. And then they are back in the enormous hanger bay with its polished black floor that could be a skating-rink. Vader leads her into a small terminal surrounded by Stormtroopers.
“This mechanic needs to have access to the network in order to research modifications to my ship,” he says, and the Stormtroopers, despite their masks, look cowed. “I would prefer if he were left undisturbed until my return.”
“Yes, milord,” says one of the Stormtroopers, opening the door to the terminal and stepping aside as she passes. The door shuts after her; no Stormtroopers follow. She is completely alone, with the code in her head and the terminal before her.
But she should wait until Vader is back in his chambers, she thinks, so he can generate that noise he was talking about. Yet there is a large glass window through which anyone can see her working—she has to appear busy, or the guards will be suspicious. She tries to remember how long it took to reach the terminal from Vader’s chambers—eight, ten minutes, perhaps? She would like to browse the Imperial Network, maybe even find some useful documents, but until Vader is generating noise, every activity of hers will be recorded. It suddenly occurs to her that Vader might be generating noise with his mind—but then, why would he have to return to his chambers? Did he return to his chambers to create an alibi for himself? But then how will he rescue her if he is eight to ten minutes away?
Exasperated, beginning to feel quite frightened, Leia decides to download the plans. She enters the code into the terminal. It is similar to the one she used on Vader’s ship, but different enough that she feels uncomfortable. She trembles when the plans show up quite obviously on a monitor—a monitor facing the window! The disc—where is it?—in her pocket—she inserts it to preserve the download. And she stands, fear written over her face, in front of the monitor so no one will the gigantic outline of the Death Star written over it—her mind numb with pressurised fear.
But then she sees a button on the monitor, which might be an on/off switch. In a huge moment of anticipation, she presses the button. The screen fizzles into black. Her fear transforms into joy. The download is nearly complete, and now no-one can tell that she is downloading anything. She begins to feel bold. Perhaps she can explore the Imperial Network a little. This being a secret battlestation, she might run into a document she would never find elsewhere. She positions her fingers on the keyboard, ready to type anything.
Vader, she remembers suddenly. Vader would be furious if she strayed from his plan.
What does it matter? asks a sly voice in her head. Vader left her alone. Besides, he did say his purpose in bringing her here was to turn the other way.
Leia’s curiosity is too strong, and her loyalty too tenuous, to overcome her temptation. After a moment of hesitation, she pushes her fingers into the keyboard and types in a word. Thousands of documents spring up. She loses herself in scanning them.
Vader does not quite know why he constructed his plan the way he did. Partly because the Force compelled him to do it, though there are other reasons. Logically, he cannot think of anything worse than leaving the princess alone. He knows that she will begin the download before he can prevent it from being noticed. He also knows that she will likely start scanning the Imperial Network and, despite a solid familiarity with the system, raise an alarm somewhere. And so he decides to stay near the hangar bay, tapping into a rarely used terminal to generate minor cover noise. He is not too serious about hiding her activity. Nor is he upset to see that both his predictions have come true. On the contrary, he relishes the adventure—however small!—that the princess’ blunders will most certainly generate.
He watches, with deep satisfaction, as a garrison of Stormtroopers run in the direction of the hangar bay.
It takes several minutes for the alarm system to activate, even after the Stormtroopers have been notified. By the time the alarm begins wailing, Vader is already at the back entrance to the hangar bay, mechanical breath quickened with anticipation. He is especially eager to see whether the princess can handle her situation.
Leia is reading a fascinating document on proposed uses for the Death Star when her screen goes blank, her download with the Death Star plans—completed, thankfully—pops out of the terminal—she thrusts the disc into her pocket just in time—and the door is burst through by armed Stormtroopers.
“It was an accident,” she lies, her heart pounding, ears rushing with blood. She manages to keep her voice from trembling. “I entered the wrong database, and once I started reading I couldn’t stop.”
“You’ll have to explain to the garrison commander,” says a Stormtrooper. “Until then, you’re under arrest.”
“Please—“ her voice cracks, “I think I should have recourse to Lord Vader, being his mechanic.”
The Stormtroopers pause. In the silence Leia can hear nothing but her own breathing and the faint wailing of an alarm. “You’re right,” one says finally. “Lord Vader will expect an explanation.”
“Idiot,” another whispers under his breath, meaning Leia.
“All right, get moving,” says the first Stormtrooper, motioning at Leia with his blaster. Another chains her hands together with binders. “We’ll have to find Lord Vader.”
“There he is!”
Vader is walking across the hangar, looking angry—his steps are quicker and his breathing more menacing than usual. The Stormtroopers draw to a halt and push Leia before them, so that she stumbles. The alarm is still playing through speakers overhead, and sounds scattered and distant in the enormous hangar bay.
“What is the meaning of this?”
He certainly arrived quickly, Leia thinks. She cannot look him in the mask, despite her relief at seeing him.
“This mechanic was looking at classified files, sir.”
“I see,” Vader says icily. “I will deal with him from here. You are dismissed.”
“See to it, captain, that someone turns off that alarm.”
“Yes, milord. With pleasure.” The Stormtroopers nod, form back into a line, and jog away. Leia is left alone with Vader, her face burning with shame. Vader studies her for a long moment. She is beginning to itch from the combination of rough mechanic’s uniform and party dress, and in the excitement of being captured, her cap has come askew. She restrains herself from moving to adjust it or from rolling up the too-large sleeves of the uniform.
“Come,” Vader says in his powerful voice, which never indicates emotion. But Leia cannot sense any particular anger with her. “It is time to go.”
“But what about my punishment?”
“No one will notice,” he says, and since he was right about her mechanic’s uniform, she supposes he is right about this too. “I have concluded the business that I was brought here to conclude.”
Vader prods her up the shuttle ramp. “It has been taken care of.”
She longs, suddenly, to throw herself into his arms, to tell him how frightened she had been, how desperate she had been for his presence. She longs for him to comfort her. For he does comfort her—the best, the most glowing times of her life have been with him. She has come to love the sound of his voice, powerful and confident, even though it does not show emotion. She has come to love the look of his mask, with its gleaming, mirror-like eyes, even though she cannot see his real face. She has always loved to watch his hands, good at fixing things, even though they are prosthetic replacements. She adores him, and as they reach the top of the ramp, she realises this for the first time.
He brings up the ramp with a small gesture of his hand. Leia watches his mask, turned away from her face, and swallows. She has never been so torn—so fulfilled—so desperate, or overjoyed. He senses her gaze and returns it for a short, tense moment, before moving on to the cockpit. “Come along,” he tells her, almost fondly.
Leia seats herself in the cockpit, and her adoration makes it the most exquisite moment of her life. Vader is next to her, heavily armoured, breathing in his horribly loud way, and his quick fingers are pressing various keys and typing orders to the Death Star’s Central Command. “To erase suspicions about your disappearance and my unexpected departure, I have informed the command that you are deceased. Would you have preferred a different story?”
“But what about my body?” Leia says, too enraptured by his confidence in her, his asking her opinion, to be disgusted or even consider the ramifications of his story.
“They will not investigate.”
“I approve of your story,” she says, fingers twisting over the disc in her pocket. She has the plans to the Death Star, she thinks. Her fingers could radiate her joy—in the form of light beams, she thinks, light beams that would stretch throughout space and brighten the darkest system, no matter how far away. She cannot stop looking at Vader, even as they pass through the hangar bay and enter space, moving far, far away from the Death Star—jumping into hyperspace. She takes in the sight of him as she has never taken in the sight of anyone before: as someone precious and rare, the most essential part of her life. She wishes he were always a part of it.
“Thank you,” she manages finally, overcoming with her feeling, which would try to prevent her from speech; for speech would betray her and possibly drive him away. “I don’t know why you chose [to help] me … but thank you.”
For a moment she thinks he won’t answer, but he then does. “Do you know, princess … you remind me of someone. Are you familiar with the history of Senator Amidala, from Naboo?”
“I am a great admirer of Senator Amidala,” Leia says with surprise. And then—there can’t be any harm in telling him. “My mother was one of her handmaidens, actually.”
Vader turns his gleaming eyes on her. “You were adopted?”
“Yes,” Leia says with a touch of bitterness, thinking of her father. How angry he would be if he saw her now! And she remembers his warning, uttered to her solemnly as a child: you must never tell Vader, he said, who your . . .
Vader leans closer. “Which handmaiden?” he asks, his breath unusually close, so that Leia can feel his exhale. She is not repulsed. This close, she can see her own reflection in his eyelenses--looking pale and defiant. She is fascinated by the shadowy shapes of his eyes. She is not afraid to answer, despite the promise she made her father. But her greatest secret, this is her greatest secret. She suddenly finds it hard to breathe. She remembers—a trunk.
“Sabé Maberrie,” she gasps, as though the answer took laborious effort. But now it is easier. Now she can breathe. There it is, out in the open: her secret. And she is flooded with love for Vader, all the love she had set aside when her real mother died that she had thought, until now, would be erased with time. She gazes at Vader with wide eyes, pleading silently for him to accept her, bare as she is without her mysterious secret. Fatherless and orphaned as she is.
“Ah,” Vader says, and to her immense sorrow, she can sense him pulling away. “I see the resemblance.”
“You knew my mother?” But this is not what she wants to discuss at all—she wants him to comfort her or challenge her. She wants to learn. To fight. To be strong for him. And she will look up to him, always. She will do anything for him, anything, if only he will accept her.
Leia’s imagination returns, perversely, to her own father. “If only you were my father!” she exclaims, making him start with astonishment. “How much I would learn!”
It is taking Vader a moment to recover from her statement. He head is slightly bent over his chest, and his breaths sound like the wheezing of an air-pump.
“How much we would accomplish together!” she continues, rapturous, glowing, her imagination speeding through a succession of dangerous adventures and noble accomplishments. They will save the galaxy and explode the Death Star—its explosion plays vividly in her mind, the colour of her love for him, her anticipation for what they will achieve together. She has never looked so beautiful, Vader thinks, watching her as if from across a gulf—which he is; he is across a gulf, and she, beautifully and refreshingly, has not yet realised it. He is not free to love her as she loves him, not even as a surrogate father, which she would like. But he can be proud of her and respect her from a distance. He can quietly aid her career. For the connection that was at first purely recognition in the Force—there is something deeper, something more, that draws him to her and her to him and that he cannot deny. Perhaps love is the wrong word, for this is pure—dangerously bright, such that he must be careful around it—quite different from what he felt for his wife. For a moment, the darkness that fills him pulls away, the film recedes from his eyes and, caught fast in her gaze, he feels—happiness.
But the computer is beeping.
“Hyperspace,” he says aloud, his focus returning to calculations and instruments. He pulls the right lever: the blue whorls squeeze into lines, and the lines are compressed into hard, pinprick stars. Imperial Centre looms before them, glittering with patterns of lights and alternating dark patches of city.
“We’re back,” the princess says sadly, her eyes roaming over the planet. Vader channels his entire energy into flying, and choosing the right levers and controls.
“What am I going to do with these plans?” she says suddenly. “I will take them to the Alliance and we will study them for a weakness. But how will I ever find the Death Star when it is secretly deployed in space?”
Vader turns to her with gleaming, empty eyes; the black eyelenses that now reflect the lights of the city. Behind the mask, Leia imagines that he smiles. “Leave that to me,” he says.
“Darth Vader,” Leia seethes. “Only you could be so bold. The Imperial Senate will not sit still for this, when they hear you’ve attacked a diplomatic—“
“Don't play games with me, Your Highness. You weren't on any mercy mission this time. Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by Rebel spies. I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you.”
“I don't know what you're talking about. I'm a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan—”
But Vader is too angry to listen. “You're a part of the Rebel Alliance...and a traitor. Take her away!”
The Stormtroopers grab her roughly by the arms. Really, Leia thinks. This is far too convincing. She musters her strength—it takes all of it not to be hurt by Vader’s words, his angry gestures, or resent the blaster point a Stormtroopers keeps firmly pressed into her back as she is led to a prison cell. Like all of Vader’s wretchedly complex plans, this one involves her capture, by him. But something has changed—he has changed—the plan was far simpler before. He had a vision of a boy, he’d said. Yes, that was when everything changed. Some boy is supposed to find the Death Star plans and rescue her, leading the Death Star to the Rebellion, which will destroy it. But Vader is different: has he changed his mind? Absurdly, she still trusts him, which is why she agreed to such a stupid plan in the first place. Now she’s in the midst of it. In the clutch of Stormtroopers, yet again. On the Devastator, yet again. The route to her cell is even familiar.
Vader knows, even now, that Leia will never forgive him.
But what can be done? The Death Star must be destroyed, and the way it will happen—that the Force insists it must happen—requires that Alderaan be destroyed as well. Balance in the Force. He laments the loss of life, even now, before anything has happened. He considers warning the Alderaanians in advance—that would be more forgivable, certainly. He has the means to do so. But Tarkin would suspect him if Alderaan began evacuations and resistance before the Death Star reached it. He would suspect Vader at once, for Vader has made morose comments about the uselessness of technology and the power of the Force. Tarkin knows that the Force derives from life and is the essence of planets, and that Vader despises the idea of destruction without a point. And Tarkin knows how close Vader is to Leia . . . but in order for the rebels to have a chance at destroying the Death Star, Vader must have Tarkin’s absolute trust. For Tarkin, following Vader’s advice, will set a homing beam on the ship that rescues Leia from the Death Star, thus taking the Death Star straight to the Rebellion and the Death Star’s destruction. Vader will survive—alone. It haunts him, knowing that the millions of men will die. He is not afraid of death and is a ruthless killer, but the thought of all those men dead—exhausts him. Their faces wash over him in an endless sea, distorted and pale. Some of them are chattering, ivory teeth sharpened like animals; his inner self is covered in blood; the stars chill him, as he imagines—grotesque—wreckage drifting aimlessly under their light. But the faces gnaw at him like rats. He is beginning to withdraw—to his inner self. Knowledge is unbearable. He knows that Leia is lost to him, knows that most of the men around him will soon die, knows that he is no longer of great use to his Master. The world is cold and dark, and even in his core he feels strong gusts threatening to swallow his dwindling, sustaining flame—the anger that keeps him alive.
There still remains his burning vision of the boy—the slim, blond boy with dark blue eyes who will be Leia’s rescuer. He senses that something important will come out of this boy, but the Force is keeping back a secret, which only his own readiness will let it reveal. And despite his—suspicions, he is not ready. With all the burdens laying on him now, he does not think it possible to handle a new revelation. Not yet.
Someone is humming. Vader is annoyed. Then, during the hitch in his breath, he recognizes it—the tune from that opera, the one he could not bear to watch in the theatre. He is surprised at himself. The faces fade as he strains to remember the melody—it had contained such melancholy, such meaning. But the humming has ended. He stares at the hummer—Piett, an excellent officer. After a moment’s consideration he decides not to use the Force and make him continue humming: that would be beneath his own dignity. Instead, he sweeps toward his room. As he walks—the Devastator’s corridors are blessedly empty, increasing his sense of freedom—his excitement builds. He is suddenly carried away by a wild desire to hear the opera all the way through. He knows that Leia likes it. She sings it to herself sometimes, when she is about to fall asleep.
The hyperbaric chamber is slow to open; he feels his enthusiasm dampening with every split second that it hesitates. Finally it admits a space large enough for him to enter. He immediately accesses the Devastator’s musical network—the first time ever that he has used it—and finds the opera; he makes it play through the speakers. Music—it takes a moment to grow accustomed to the sound. At first he is disappointed, having expected something more exciting, something thrilling. But as his anger builds somehow the music takes on new meaning, somehow it grows to fill the room until it is overwhelming in its sadness, its dark tones—sweeping and yet, despite its emotion, the most restrained music Vader has ever heard. And he is stunned by the danger in it, the passion. What discontent beneath its sweet surface; what desperation in the performance. And suddenly, voices!—soaring high, clear, intertwined girls’ voices. Leia, he thinks, that frustrated, beautiful girl. More voices, including a male, swirling apart and then together, building stronger and sadder on a rising scale. Vader can no longer bear to listen. His inner self, a perfect visual copy, clutches the mask in its hands. But he does not move to turn off the music. Here is something too beautiful, something that might crumble at his touch—and yet as natural to him as the Force, as impassioned and desperate as he. No—still more beautiful, more pure—he is too tainted—and the feet of the million dead trampling over him, their bloated faces grinning before his eyes, remind him how tainted and twisted he is. But what passion in the music! even hope! What bright futures before them, Leia and the tan, blue-eyed boy, whose fates will soon intertwine, like characters in an opera. Soon, he thinks, the Empire will collapse and he with it, replaced by something better and more beautiful, by these bright children; and then their children and children’s children will invent something even better, a future that boggles his conception.
Oh, Leia!—his darling . . . !
For a moment, a singer trembles on her note—the highest note Vader has ever heard. He can almost see the stars.
* * *