[identity profile] pandore27.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] starwarsficfest
Title: Shock and Awe
Author: Pandora Beardsley ([livejournal.com profile] pandore27)
Rating: Mature
Prompt: PT, Yané and/or Saché: Life after the Trade Federation occupation.

Author's Note: Yes, this is extremely late. Mea culpa.






Shock and Awe



Finally, the palace is closed and dark for the night. It should be quiet, especially here, in the royal wing, but then (of course) it isn’t. I can always hear the leaves hissing, and then writhing, in the wind outside my window. Or one of the guards, and the taptap of his footsteps, will go past on his rounds, and I only realize I’ve held my breath after he is gone. But it is mostly quiet enough. The others, including Eirtaé, who has the room on the other side of my wall, are busy, or gone for the next few hours. Rabé, Eirtaé, and Yané went with Amidala to the opera. Sabé is busy in the wardrobe.

I’m sitting here next to the window, on the stuffed plush seat. It was made out of sweetheart-red velvet, which has started to wear thin, but it’s still my favorite place. I have my legs crossed, so I can work, or write, on this datapad. I only have those few hours to be here, and be alone, before Amidala will send for me. I had best use them.

The window is close, and sweetcandy cold, and it vibrates, just a little, against my hand when the wind shakes it. The tree branches are clacking.

If I look close enough, I can see my reflection. It’s mostly my blurred face, and my hair, my dark, mud brown hair that isn’t pretty or plain. It’s only hair. I move, only a little, but enough to blur my reflection away into the light from the datapad glow.

Tonight, Amidala has to make an appearance, and one of her most important ones, at the opera, to see the first performance of a Gungan work. I don’t remember the title, or if it even has one. Everyone’s there, for unity and art. Amidala wore a green gown, made out of water silk from one of the Gungan cities, and a pearl headdress. Yané fetched the matching silk slippers, that cost more than most people earn in a month. I painted on her face, leaning in close while I drew the blood-red, rose-red scar on her lip. My hand didn’t shake, and she didn’t expect it to. But I did.

When I was finished, she was supposed to look regal, but she was too nervous, and wound up just looking peeved, like an irritated, half-drowned cat.

Oh, and I know I shouldn’t think that, let alone type it up into glowing, shuddering black letters on a file on this datapad.

And I’m forgetting the point, the point I started this file to write about. But I don’t know how I should go about it. I don’t know where to begin.

We’re not that kind of people, a voice keeps sing-songing, and pinching, inside my head, like my mother, or my great-aunt, or one of my friends’ mothers.

Or: You’re a lying, sick little bitch.

It has been over three months now since the Trade Federation invasion, and since Amidala, the girl-queen, my mistress, rescued us. Since I was released from the camp outside Theed where I had been held. I returned to her service, and I have never discussed, or even mentioned, what happened to me. I couldn’t tell them, not even, or maybe especially Yané. She spent the occupation safe, or mostly so, with Governor Bibble. And then, she is only thirteen, a little girl, six years my junior.

But I’ve been forced to admit (and I had to take a deep, fainting breath, before I could look back at this datapad) that hasn’t been enough to make it not have happened.

*

It wasn’t until after the Queen’s ship was gone, flashed away into the sky, and then space, that Yané wept. She looked straight ahead, away from the hangar, and the battle droids, and it was only when she blinked that I saw the fat, glass-drop tears on her face. She didn’t wipe at them, or her nose. Finally, she sniffled, and looked down at the ground, before one of the droids shoved her forward and stumbling with its blaster.

*

Before that, and right before the Queen left, and left us behind, I remember that I had already turned away, to the world beyond the royal courtyard. I understood (that the Queen trusted me, and that I would do what I had to), and I might have nodded. But mostly, I felt as cold and endless and knowing as one of the ancient heroines, like Elsinora of Vis, or Aerena, the White Queen, who believed in peace before the rest of Naboo did.

But I should have remembered that they were queens, and I was not.

Oh, I didn’t save the world, or even help save it. I have to say that. Before I write down, and save, any more of my story, I have to mention that.

*

Most nights, I walk through the hallways of the palace. I take a little, knife-silver light with me, but only as a precaution; I have never needed it. I know where I’m going, even when I walk through some of the older, mostly unused sections, and the lower levels, where the hallways turn long, bony-narrow, and dark. I don’t have a purpose, although the guards who see me, and nod, think I’m on a security check. And since I keep my hood down, they can see me. I only want to walk, and wander, without aim or end.

Since I don’t have an aim, I don’t try, or want, to remember the routes I have taken in the past, so each time, I just wander off. But there are several rooms that I’m fond of, and enough to visit at least one night a month.

Last night, I stopped at one of them. It’s a room hidden down in one of the oldest, mostly unused parts of the palace. It must have been a sitting room, or bedroom, before it was turned into a storage room, and then forgotten. I am certain (and hope) I’m the only person who even remembers it. The windows are dusty, and there is only one piece of furniture, a rose-pink chaise lounge out in the middle of the floor. I let the door click shut before I turned on a bedtime-story lamp so I could see.

After a minute, I decided to sit down on the chaise lounge. I must have been tired, and my legs were numbed from walking, or perhaps just waiting on the Queen. I wouldn’t stay there for long, because I never do, but I didn’t want to get up again. I wanted to lie down, and wrap my cloak around me, and become part of the shadowed air.

Perhaps I did fall asleep, although I only remember jerking up, and wiping the drool off my face. It was still dark. After a few minutes, or more, I left. My cloak was footprinted with dust, but that’s happened before, and no one has ever known.

When it starts to turn pale outside, and I hear the birds chirping, and then screaming in the gardens, I hurry back, on tiptoe, to my room, and my bed. I don’t change into my nightdress, not anymore, or take off my stockings. I only get under the blankets, and fall asleep for one, or perhaps two hours. That’s more than enough.

Oh, I don’t have bad dreams, or at least, if I do, they’re gone when I wake up, and I want to make certain it stays that way.

Then I’m in the Queen’s bedchamber, standing near her vanity with a datapad filled with the day’s schedule while Rabé finishes up her hair, and the others go back and forth on their errands. I’m wearing a peach-yellow dress with dragging skirts, fine for a lady-in-waiting, but quite silly for a bodyguard. I’m wearing a night-blue cloak, with the sagging big hood down, at least until I leave the room. I’m smiling, in a slight, earnest, and loyal way. It’s easy, because this is the part that doesn’t seem real.

*

Right now, Sabé is in that bedchamber, finishing up in the wardrobe, and the whispering, breathing-warm gowns. She will have set out the nightdress, a moon-white thing with lace cuffs, the Queen will wear tonight, in several hours, out and ready. She won’t have anything more to do. She is seldom allowed out in public, since she looks too much like the Queen, like Amidala. Panaka is (too) careful about that. I don’t think I could endure it, but Sabé never complains.

Oh, it could be because she’s shy, and she is. But it’s mostly because she has a schoolgirl, blushing, giggling crush on Amidala.

I think Amidala is the only one who doesn’t know.

But anyway, she is the only person around, and certainly, the only person I could talk with, if I were to leave this room. But I can’t, since I know my skin would feel tootight and raw, just knowing someone could see me. Just knowing.

It doesn’t matter, because I don’t know Sabé well enough to know what we could possibly discuss. She is close to the Queen, if not her bosom companion, or best friend, too close to interact with the rest of us much. She is fourteen, only fourteen, and too young for me to suddenly, accidentally confide in. And I know I must want to confide, because I bought this disposable datapad, a sleek, expensive, and blackboot polished thing, even if I haven’t quite begun to tell all, or whisper it all down.

Eirtaé and Rabé both know that something happened to me. They haven’t brought it up, out of respect, and because that’s how we were raised, but I can tell. Perhaps it would work if I imagined and saw them right here, and I could tell the truth, and everything, as though it were a story I had found in a book.

*

It wasn’t (I would tell them, to begin) the battle droids.

I still remember how they all had the flopped ears, and buzzing voice, of a character on a children’s holo show I used to watch, once in a while, when I was little. Oh, yes, really. The character was a ryoo blue canine with golden eyes, who was frequently irritated, yet patient, with the other characters. He lived in a house hidden high up in some tree branches, and I can still picture it, or at least, I think I do. Perhaps it’s odd, but I still remember that character (I’m certain his name was Cin) fondly.

Oh, everyone was afraid of the droids. They were always patrolling outside the camp fences. They shot a man, once, the first day, in a flurry of screams and blaster fire. I think he had tried to climb over the fence, but I’ll never be certain.

But they were only the weapons, the blasters, the Trade Federation used.

When Panaka first issued me, and the others, our blasters, he told us that a weapon was only a tool that could be used for good, or ill. The difference was up to us. Of course, he was just trying to make us feel comfortable with our blasters, once we had discovered the secret, the truth, that we weren’t just companions in waiting. I know that my hands shook, too big and clumsy-numb, when I held it. I didn’t understand yet.

It wasn’t the lackeys from the Trade Federation who controlled the droids, and the camp, from a nearby command center. None of them saw, or cared, what happened there. None of them knew what they had managed to cause.

*

It’s a story that ends like this: I’m standing on a ledge under a waterfall, falling and churning with soapsuds into the river, a smaller river that flows into the Solleu. I have a candy-red sore chewed into my lip, and I’m holding a meat knife. I’m wearing a grey dress, for mourning, and for pity, that I had just stolen. My hair is damp, but I can’t feel the water, or how my skin is turning soaked with it. I only stare straight ahead, clutching at the ledge with my stiff, bare toes.

The man, the man I will recognize anywhere for the rest of my life, who will never appear ordinary and average again, might be looking for me.

Of course, I know now that he wasn’t, but then, I didn’t know anything.

My hands are covered with ripped cuts, and my fingernails are broken and black with dirt, and sticky mud.

The warning-flame dress I had worn, that all the handmaidens had worn, when the Trade Federation had taken the city, was ripped, and stained, and turned into rags. I had left it behind me on the ground before I climbed, and scrambled, over the fence.

*

There was enough food (I would tell them) during the first few days, even if was mostly lumped, canned vegetables from a storage unit on some asteroid. I wasn’t hungry, but I made myself eat. It was dropped in a series of large, prison-metal boxes from a speeder in the morning, and even then, people would rush over to open them. Then, on the fourth day, there were only a few boxes. It was most likely an oversight, but I’ll never know. People started to quarrel, and push and shove to get to the front of the line, of the pack. Then, the next day, they were almost snarling.

Before that, I had noticed, when I was standing off to the side, alone and silent, that people, usually women, mommies with sagging tits, and a few men, would make certain to save a few cans for their children, or parents.

Now, they only took food for themselves, and ate it, right there, their hands almost shaking, before someone else could take it from them.

Fuckoff, they would hiss between their teeth.

That was the day when a woman, an older woman, a great-aunt or sainted grandmother with ash-grey hair and a torn skirt, shoved into me so hard that I dropped the can I was holding. She kicked me, and hard enough, before she grabbed the food.

*

Fuckoff, I would have told her.

Well, fuck you, dear, she would have said.

*

This morning, I attended Amidala during her meeting with Governor Bibble in his private sitting room. She wore a night-black gown made out of waterslick silk. Bibble’s aide stayed close, with a datapad stuffed full of oh so important documents. And I stood behind Amidala’s chair, buried (and safe) in my hooded cloak, in my shadow, for several hours. My thighs turned sore, and then numb, and made out of wood, but I didn’t move. Oh, and towards the end, I had to piss, but I know how to hold that.

That was when I bit into my lower lip, hard enough to hurt, though not enough to bleed, never enough for that. My teeth aren’t sharp enough.

The aide looked up at me, and I turned my face away. I’ve seen him before, at meetings, or in the hallways, so that would mean he has seen me. He might be twenty-five, or he might be older or younger. He is bony-thin, with ice pale eyes, and a sighing voice. Once, I saw him wearing a plush beret, and drinking a coffee outside a café near the palace. It took me almost a minute to recognize him.

Once, I would have imagined, even if only in passing, kissing him, or what I would see as he undid his shirt, or his trousers.

Now, that makes me swallow hard and fast before I start to gag.

(Because I can only see him suddenly panting-flushed and pushing me down, and getting on top of me, always on top of me, and crushing my bones into dust--)

That’s something else I can blame that man, the man whose name I will never know, the man who tried to rape me, for.

After the meeting, I followed Amidala, and her swaying skirts, back to her office. I looked down at the floor, and at my feet, and stopped when she stopped, to speak with Lady Brandes, who used to be an artist, a painter, but now is only a politician, and signs documents approving state approved sculptures. She’s planning a monument for the people (and Gungans, though I’m not so good at remembering that bit) who died during the occupation, and they both looked serious.

No, Lady Brandes was towering, and tired, and basically just old. She groveled, and Amidala was serious. They both know she will get the credit, and the praise, for this sculpture, although Lady Brandes and her aides have done all the work.

*

This has nothing do with anyone who died, any of the people that Amidala and Lady Brandes would never have known in life, but that seems self-evident.

*

I spent most of the occupation (I would tell them, looking away if I needed) off and keeping to myself in a small tent at the edge of the camp, and near a group of Royal Security guards. I came out to get food, and fill my plastic, and probably stolen, water bottle from the fountain in the middle of the camp. The water turned warm before I could drink it, and tasted like plastic. The guards sat outside, whispering and playing a card game, and, I suspected even then, in the beginning, and the middle, waiting, waiting to hear about the plan they had prepared.

One night, I sat up in the darkness, suddenly awake and sticky-confused with sweat. I knew why when I heard a woman scream, a loud, comm. ring shrieking, again, and then again. There was a mumbling of footsteps, and then nothing.

Because you imagined it, that voice told me in my head, the woman’s voice that slapped me, neatly, and for my own good across the face.

No one mentioned it in the morning, or the afternoon, when I came out to fight and push and shove for food with the others.

You see (I would pause, before I had to say it) they still thought they were good, peaceful, dignified people, people living on a world where nothing bad happened.

I was still wearing the gown I had on when I was taken to the camp, since it was the only thing I had to wear. I was even wearing, oh yes, the same underwear, and the same stockings. The stockings had dried stiff and sour-sticky, though I didn’t mind the underwear as much as they would think. But the dress, that flame-orange gown I had thought was so pretty, was what people noticed.

They were watching me that day, when it was almost the end, when I came out of the tent to wash my face. “There she is,” someone, anyone, said.

“Well, well,” said one of the men, an older man I hadn’t noticed before. “It’s one of Her Little Highness’s handmaidens.”

“Looks like your girl forgot you!” a woman said, and looked around at all the others, the men, women, and giggling children, before she shrieked with laughter.

“She’s too busy hiding in Senator Palpatine’s robes,” another woman, who I had seen before, rushed to say. “That’s what I’ve heard.”

They all laughed and laughed and laughed.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, and my voice came out almost rusted-creaking and deep, as though I hadn’t used it for months.

“Maybe she’s right,” the first man said. “I think Amidala sent her little bitch here to watch us, and report back. I hope she’s finding this entertaining enough.”

The man, that man, was there, and watching, with a woman who must have been his wife. That was the first time I knew I saw them. She had long, dark, ragged hair, and night-black eyes, and small feet. Her mouth was swollen red and chapped, and for a moment, an endless, flashing moment, I imagined kissing her. I imagined smacking her, and knocking her head to the side. I don’t know why. Then she leaned against her husband’s shoulder, and I saw her tongue flash out.

“This is your reward for kissing Amidala’s rose-white arse,” he said, and he sounded almost disappointed. “Fuck, do I feel sorry for you.”

Before I could stop and consider, I stepped up and spat in his face, with all the moisture I could manage to summon up. Everyone oohed.

*

The man only wiped the glassy drool, my drool, from his cheek.

*

The others dispersed, rushing off in groups, in packs, only moments before there was a rainstorm of blaster fire from the droids. Someone yelped, and then screeched, and it turned out a little boy had been hit in the arm. I should have felt something, but I didn’t.

*

That man didn’t threaten me, or even speak to me. He might have still been looking at me, but I don't remember that. Only his wife stepping back and away, and clutching his hand.

*

No, he caught me out behind the tent, behind my tent, several days later. The sky was huge and pale with heat, and no one looked, no one saw, as he caught me before I could walk or even run away, and knocked me to the ground, and I kicked and hit but my fists were like doll’s fists. It didn't hurt him, and he didn't feel it, because he was a man, a fucking man, and I was nothing--


*

Remember to tell Queen Amidala about this, he said, and he was breathing loud and dragon hot right into my face.

*

Fuck you, I wanted to tell him.

*

The wire on the fence tore holes into my hands, as I scrambled over, as one of the guards, the one who came just in time, just in time to never respect me again, gave me a boost up, and I scrambled, hot and panting and swallowing snot.

*

He left that camp, he was rescued, and he cheered at the victory parade with his wife, with his brother, his mother, his father, and his dear, loving, stupid grandmother.

*

Amidala will be back soon, and so I only have the time to finish, to tell Eirtaé, and Rabé, and only this datapad, that I stole that dress, and ran away, and kept running until I stopped on that ledge under the waterfall, lost and dreaming-cold. I left it, finally, but I stayed close by. There was only water to drink, but then, it couldn’t have been even a day before I came out to meet some of the guards, and find out the camp had been liberated. They didn’t know I was a handmaiden, and I didn’t tell them. They thought I had been there the entire time, and I decided they didn’t need to know anything else—

I just heard one of the doors open, and then swish closed again.

That means I have only five minutes, before they have gotten out of their evening cloaks, and decide to risk knocking on my door and disturbing me.

Now, it must be only four minutes, and tickticking away.

Oh, Amidala must have noticed something, because she excused me from the victory parade. I wouldn't have thought to ask, though it was what I wanted. I spent that afternoon, and evening, in this room, alone, with the door locked, while the others thought I was working security in the crowds outside the palace.

But she doesn’t know or even imagine this story, which I will lock and hide away inside this datapad, and I will never, ever, ever tell her. She shouldn’t understand. She should still think that the Trade Federation, and Viceroy Gunray, are bad, but that people, and ohyes, the Gungans, will always be good.

*

That was what she saw as she stood looking out at the crowds in the glaring sunshine in the middle of that victory parade, as she stood in the midst of their cheers. As I sat and huddled on my window seat, and heard their voices flying and cawing nearby, and made myself look out and know. They had forgotten what had happened, and what they had done. They didn’t remember knocking a girl, or a little boy, or an old man they used to know down, and breaking their arm, during a fight over a can of stale tubers.

They didn’t remember, but I do, the man who made an effigy of Amidala one night and burned it in the middle of the camp, which also kept a few people warm.

Three minutes now, or less, and then after I tend to Amidala, I will go back to this room, and this window, and wait to go out into the hallways again.

No, they only remember cheering for her, for Amidala, the girl, the queen in the white dress and red-kissed mouth, who had saved the world, and saved them. They only remember throwing confetti, like torn bits of a silk dress, perhaps the dress I wore that last day, and left behind in the forest, into the air and then away.

----

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