Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, though my timeline and his don't match up.

Also to Sithkitten, whose Yoda it is said "No soul this man has! No presence or knowledge of the Force do I sense."

No copyright infringement is intended.


Going Home

They say We don't have souls.

Maybe They're right. Who am I to say otherwise? I'm not even sure what They mean when They say it. Or how They think They can tell. Or how They know They do have them. Or even what They mean by "soul" in the first place.

I don't think We're that different from Them. Maybe We're not born of woman, like They are, but our blood and bone are the same, our pattern a man as human as any of Them. And when We die, We die the same. I've killed enough of Them to know that. When They die there's no great transcendent experience, not that I can see anyway. They just die, no light, no music, no auras or heavenly beings... They just die. Just like We do.

And They can't tell, either. If it's blind, I mean. If They don't know the dying man is one of Us—and it happens often enough that way that I've seen it more than a dozen times—They can't tell. The same ones that are all unconcerned about sending Us to the slaughter by the thousands when they know are all upset when they don't, when they think We're Them. And They don't know because They can't even tell when We're alive, when They talk to Us. I've heard Them say They can, but I've talked to Them. Unless you ask Us outright it's just not so. Of course, some droids you can't tell, or not easily, and They say we're not as much people as droids, some of Them. Some droids. Of course, if you ask... But for most of Them it's all knowing already. Or looking at Us, knowing Our face.

Except Jedi. Of course. They're the ones who started saying We weren't really people. Imperials latched on to that, and then the rest of Them; it's convenient for Them. It salves Their conscience. If We're not as much people as aliens, or droids, how can it matter what happens to Us?

But you don't see Jedi on every street corner. You don't see Jedi anywhere any more. Maybe We don't have souls, but We can kill the ones who do. Their souls didn't help them. They never help Them.

Maybe after They're dead.

But I think that dead is dead, and it doesn't matter if you have a soul or not. By Their stories about faithful pets in heaven they don't really either, because animals don't have souls. They all agree on that. Aliens? Probably. Droids? Maybe. Us and animals? No.

That's all right. If We haven't got souls, I don't know what good it would do Us if We did. Death isn't a place, no matter what is said, so no one goes there to live. Didn't the Jedi use to teach that after death everything became a part of the Force? I don't know how much I like that idea, but then I don't believe it. Much. But it's close to what I think is true, though I don't like it either: death ends it. Us. Them. Everyone.

Anyway, souls aside, We're intelligent life forms. No one really can argue that, which is why, I think, They like Us being soulless. We're self-aware. We remember the past and We know the future's out there waiting, and We fear death. Not that We show Them that. And for most of Us, 'fear' isn't the right word anyway. You can't really fear death and be a soldier. You can't embrace it, but you mustn't fear it. And most of Us don't. Those that do, We don't give them a long time to be afraid. That's the Way. Some of Us agree with Ridge co Fosse, that Death is Our best friend. Most of Us don't. Death's not a person. But most of Us sort of believe what Tyan-Shan of the First said, that Death is our home.

I'm not sure I ever believed that. I'd like to. It would be nice to go home, especially now. But not if They'll be there. I'd rather just blink out than go on past my forty years with Them. But if They aren't there, that would be nice. An eternity of just Us. None of Them: no high-ranking officers, not Imperials, no Jedi. Especially that. No Jedi.

Maybe this is heaven already. No Jedi. And We did it.

I've got no love for Jedi, you may have noticed. But then I've got no love for any of Them. I don't worry about that when I start thinking about souls and such: most of Them don't have any love for each other, just a small subset of Themselves.

I love Us. All of Us.

It's true. I've never met any one of Us I didn't love. Maybe We're made that way, but I don't think so. They wouldn't have made Us to choose Us over Them, especially not in combat. And I've seen Us pack each other out to medic points, even when they died on our backs, and leave Them to die in the mud a half-hour's walk from succor. I've done it myself. It's an easy choice.

Oh, sure, there are some of Us, many to be honest, I don't much like. But even them I love. Even them I'd save over the most innocent and trusting of Them. That's what family means, isn't it? Blood? Kin?

I love Us. And I hate Them.

Most of us don't hate Them. Not really hate. A kind of quiet pervasive dislike. But then most of Us don't ever see Them, except an occasional HRO, a division or corps commander, not once we've left the crèche. Oh, and the targets, of course, but they hardly count. They aren't around long and while they hate Us, it's not personal. They'd hate Us no matter who We were: We're killing them, after all. I envy those of Us.

I envy those of Us who come out of the crèche at four, fully grown and ready to fight, and never see another one of Them again except at a distance. I envy them their simple lives, living with their brothers and uncles and nephews in the battalions, playing and fighting and living peacefully, comfortable inside themselves. The ones not touched by chance, not chosen for specialties that take them out among Our masters. The ones who can be who they are, unencumbered by Their hate and fear, even though their lives are shaped by others.

I see Them every day. I work with Them. And not in the armor, either. That bothers Them. They like Us better in the armor, faceless; They can pretend We're all alike because of it, not in the bone and the flesh. And they can pretend We haven't got bone and flesh, that We're less human, more droid, in the armor, as if the armor were Us. Some of Them, maybe most of Them across the Empire, even think We can't live without it. That's a useful misconception; if They don't know what We look like, when we take the armor off We can walk among Them unnoticed.

After all, They can't tell who We are without it, not unless They already know. And few, very few, of Them do. They never see Us out of the armor to know what they are seeing.

Or unless a squad of Us are together. And even then, unless we're from the same lot, they aren't sure sometimes. We can pass for fathers and sons, or brothers and cousins. They aren't really sure. They don't really know.

The ones I work with know. They look at me with their eyes, Their infinitely variable eyes, and they're all the same. They're all afraid. Some hide it better than others, but We can tell, it's one of the things We can do. They all fear Us as much as They hate Us.

Perhaps it's Their souls. Perhaps Their souls can sense that We don't have any, and they're afraid. Or perhaps it's Their minds, knowing what They've done. Either way, They are afraid.

And They ought to be. I could kill them all. Not merely any of them, or even each of them. All of them. None of them could stop me if I decided to take them out one fine morning. I dream about it. Night-dreams and day-dreams both. The night-dreams leave me feeling a sort of sadness when I wake and realize that it isn't so, that I must rise and dress and walk among Them again. The day-dreams are sweet and absorbing and occupy my mind during the tedious hours; they are informed with all the details of how They die, the sights and sounds and scents, and they are quite realistic. I enjoy them. I suspect they show in my eyes; Moffs and aides look at me and avert their gazes even more quickly than usual, politicians break stride and sometimes turn, and officers prickle up and snap. I smile at them. They don't like that, either.

But I've never done it. Not even after Alderaan. There's no purpose to it beyond vengeance, no gain from it beyond satisfaction, and it would be a bad thing. Knowing that I can do it has always been enough to be going on with.

Another reason I wish Ace were here. We could argue about this, if not doing it is inbred or arrived at rationally. It is rational: if one of Us were to do such a thing the bloodletting that would follow would be terrible. It would make the purges of thirty years ago look like a mild chastisement. That it would be only Us would leave Them totally unchecked. Even now, with the rebellion gaining strength, They couldn't afford to let such a thing pass. And They would probably fear Us too much to take the chance even if They needed Us much more than They do now. And what they would do to the children doesn't bear thinking about. The momentary satisfaction would soon be eclipsed forever by the regret; the cost is far too high.

I choose not to.

Ace would argue that if I really wanted to, I would. I would say then I must not really want to. And he would say, how did I know? And I would say, must I do something stupid to prove to him that I can, even though it's stupid? And he would say that is the only way to be sure I can. And I would hit him, and we would trade blows and laugh...

I do miss him.

He thought more things were bred into Us than I do. I think they're trained into us. Coding such a thing into our genes is, I suspect, far beyond Their capabilities: if They could do it, there is so much We have We would not.

We would love Them.

And I don't think any of us love Them.

Maybe some of Us are fond of some of Them. But no more than that.

And every year in the crèche They have to put some of the children down for flaws in their thinking... And even so, every lot produces some whose hate is fiercer than the others', some whom the sergeants know to keep far away from the Imperials. And some who mask it better, whose colonels die mysteriously on the battlefield. And some who, no matter what we do, take their own lives...

No, We're not all alike. And less is bred into Us than is thought. We know it, even if We don't know what to do about it. Even if most of Us accept our portion in life and work hard and fight well and die in service, mostly happy. We aren't droids. We can think independently: it's why They made Us, after all. We can adapt. We can be Our own officers, though never more than acting division commanders because They make the policies We die for. We can change with the changing situations. We can predict. We can compensate. We can create. And so We can think... independently, of things We shouldn't, of things that make Us uneasy and unhappy. And We can overcome our training, if there should prove a need.

If it were ever worth it.

Ace thought it would be harder to do that than I do, but he thought We could. After all, he did it every day. Every time he answered to 'Ace', every time he called me 'Sarc', he did it.

We have names. They don't give them to Us, They don't want Us to have them, but We do. We choose our own when the old sergeants tell Us to, in Our third year, at puberty, when We're old enough to keep it from Them, even from the teachers we might like before we learn better. Before we have learned to be Us.

Oh, yes, out among Them I answer to "C Captain" and to my number: 490-47-12. And as a little child, at one and two, to the shorter numbers, 19 and, later, 14 amongst my section and then 47-14, 47-13, and 47-12 after our sections came together. And in the annual Ceremonies of Remembrance (even though I'm usually alone when they are held) I still call myself 490-47-19, holding in Our memory those of my section of our lot who didn't make it through the training. But We are not droids or cattle, to be known by a serial number, even if it is tattooed on my neck.

I am not merely number 12 of section 47 of lot 490. I am Sarc, Sarc co Jaxon, and I have family. There are three boys who have my name on them: Obieh co Sarc, Kin-Ryan co Sarc, and Thunder co Sarc. There are still five others living of Jaxon's fostering, and even two who were, like Jaxon, of Mistral's, though Mistral died so long ago I never knew him and Jaxon five years ago, at forty one, suddenly an old man.

I have family. Uncles and nephews and cousins fostered within Our greater whole. Ties of heart within the ties of blood so strong They cannot fathom them. I have family. I have a name. And I know them. I am a man.

And for a time I was Ace's.

The first time I saw him was on Prifylla. I wasn't terribly young then, thirteen. He was just over a year older, lot 482, and commander of Tarkin's personal security company. The Moff had been there a month or so, arriving after the campaign was well in hand. My charge came even later to Prifylla, when it was mostly over; he liked to be able to say he'd been there, but he didn't like actually being there.

Prifylla was, of course, a slaughter from the beginning. Hard work, but not particularly dangerous. A nice way to start out boys, and so Ace's company was by far the senior unit—trust Tarkin for that: no green bodyguards on their first mission. And trust my Senator to make sure the Moff's guard guarded him as well.

Ace brought the first personal detail over himself. It had rained all night; the hovercars were iridescent with it and the gardens were wet and opulent. When they came in, water was beaded on their armor and the sun just breaking through the clouds spun tiny rainbows around them. They were waiting for me, and I was paused on the veranda, watching them, taking their measure. The morning was hushed and waiting, and so was I, though I wasn't sure for what.

When he took off his helmet to breathe in the rain-sweetened air, I liked what I saw. I know the jokes, but they're not true. We can tell each other apart, easily. They, endlessly variable, are so simple it's laughable, but We can recognize each other. A medic told me once that the section of our brains that handles pattern recognition is three times as developed as that of Theirs... So I say again, I liked what I saw.

I liked the little lines at the corners of his eyes; he wasn't anything like dark enough for them to come from squinting helmetless into a desert sky, so they were from laughing. I liked the way he grinned, with his teeth apart and his chin a little tucked, softening the line of his jaw. I liked the angle of his head on his neck and the way he held his shoulders. I liked the economy and grace in his movements. I liked the way he walked, confident and sure: he'd been a section leader in his boyhood. I liked the easy way he stood with his men, the way he cocked his head to listen.

He was beautiful.

I acknowledged his arrival without leaving the veranda and watched as he deployed the detail. He kept out two men and, when the others were stationed, came up to meet me. I was wearing the gray, of course, unadorned except the yellow rank insignia. As a major he ranked me, but I was political so we were more or less equals and he didn't salute. I wasn't sure what he was thinking; as a bodyguard-officer he'd of course learned to keep his thoughts his own. As had I...

"482-162-19," he said, since anyone might be listening. As I identified myself to him, probably needlessly as he'd most likely been told my number when he was sent over, I reflected on that number. Nineteen: they'd been a damned good section to lose no more than one, if any. No wonder they'd been tapped for special duties.

He continued. "And the rabbit hole?"

"This way," I pointed with my chin and they came along, the two soldiers behind us and him beside me.

There's always a rabbit hole. It's never on the drawings, never in the plans, but it's always there. Some places I've been with the senator there're several of them: escape routes for the important Them to flee through if it becomes necessary. Mostly it's accepted by Them that no one knows about them who shouldn't, but no guard captain worth his rank would make that assumption. I showed them where it was, and we went inside, and he wanted to walk it. Sensible man.

One of his men walked it with us and stayed at the far end. Ace and I looked around outside the rabbit hole briefly and then, reluctantly—at least on my part though I wasn't as yet sure why—we went back inside. He spoke for a moment with his soldier and then we headed back. When we were in a safe spot I told him my name.

His eyes warmed. "Ace co Ward."

I nodded and paused a moment longer to try it out. "Have you been on the planet long, Ace?"

"Five months now," he answered. "It's a nice little planet, Prifylla, or used to be any way, Sarc."

Our eyes held and then we started walking again, just a trifle faster to cover the pause. Paranoia, but... is it really paranoia if they will kill you? And in any event it was habit too strong to break.

We walked back to the front of the house, my footsteps lost in the sound of his boots, our paces equal. Halfway back to the entrance hall we passed my Senator's Lady. Her pale eyes, blue like a cold sky, rested on Ace and me for a moment but she didn't speak. I didn't speak, either, since she hadn't, but Ace and I both inclined our heads as she passed, not meeting her gaze nor seeming to look at her. I didn't introduce him; for all he was an officer, and her husband's and thus in a manner of speaking her bodyguard, he wasn't a person to be introduced. We'd heard her coming and fallen silent, and remained that way after she'd passed.

I was just as glad she hadn't spoken. I'd hoped the Senator would think Prifylla too dangerous for her. Since he hadn't, I had indulged myself a bit with thoughts of accidents. Now that I'd met Ace, I might have to stop that, and that would be too bad. I enjoyed those. Still, we wouldn't be staying with Tarkin forever, though I was beginning to think that might not be a hardship tour.

I hoped the sight of his unhelmeted face hadn't put any odd notions into her head, or that if it had she was too much afraid of what the Senator would do to double her risks. But who knew, with her?

Who knows with any woman?

Women are strangers to us. We have none of our own, of course, and I've never heard of any of Theirs regarding us as anything but living toys, not human enough to worry about but not alien enough to make them feel dirty. She enjoys me for my docility as much as my ferocity, but I don't enjoy her at all. Oh, yes, of course the sex is enjoyable: bad sex is still good. And I can't deny the reactions of my body when I pass her in the hall and remember. But I don't enjoy the way she talks to me, the way she runs her fingers through my hair and says if it were only a bit longer I'd be just like the one she had at her father's, the way she only wants me because her husband would go insane if he found out and I'm her hidden revenge on his indifference and his politics—not his beliefs, of course, just their taking all his time. But I've no real choice.

Many of them think We're not male. We're sterile, of course, but legend has it that they tried making Us sexless at the Beginning and found We weren't good enough at our jobs. So We're male. But We're not like that other story They have of Us: consumed by lust for Their women. Most of Us never see women except for targets. The rest of Us control Ourselves very well. Of course, it's easier when they think of Us as animals, or machines. When they don't... as we were taught back in crèche: it's dangerous to say Yes. It's more dangerous to say No. Whose word will be taken? And how easy is it to get the physical evidence?

Still I'd sooner kill her than sleep with her, which, fortunately, she's not mad enough to want. A rough half hour and she's done with me for a month or so. I've lived with it.

All this flashed through my mind as we walked, and I suddenly hated her more than ever before. And then, two corridors from where we'd passed her, he spoke again. "What time do they let you go?" A cool, almost casual question.

I shrugged and felt his gaze slip sideways and catch on my shoulder. I avoided looking directly at him, sending my own gaze down the hallway, but I was acutely aware of the man inside the white armor, the skin, the muscle, the bone, the breath. I swallowed. "It's always different. But he's just come so... fourish, I expect he'll pack it in today."

"D'you like Alectan?" he asked, which was by way of being a joke. I'd never met one of Us who'd admit to not liking Alectan, which might have been significant if that wasn't what They fed us nine days out of ten in the crèche and line units. Or if Alectan wasn't so middle-of-the-road, really, as cuisines go.

It's possible though that the pattern was Alectan, and so, in the back of Their minds, They think that's what we'd prefer. We don't look particularly Alectan but it's not impossible that he was. We don't know anything about him. Not to say know. Not really. Oh, the obvious: black crisply curling hair; eyes so dark brown you can lose the pupils in the irises; light brown skin; about six feet tall; sturdy build; quick reflexes; twenty/ten vision; good hand-eye coordination, ears like a cat... The obvious. Though some of that might have been changed, I really doubt his height or hair color or facial features were taken into consideration. Who We see when We look at each other is who he saw when he looked into a mirror, and when We speak it's his voice. But what accent that voice carried in the beginning We'll never know.

At any rate, Ace didn't wait for me to answer him, just added, as if it didn't matter at all, "There's a nice pub in town, does a good Alectan dinner. We go there. I thought you might like a show 'round?"

"A show 'round would be very helpful, thanks," I said, also as if it didn't matter. To any watchers we looked uninterested. But I could tell, I could smell it on him, how much he wanted my yes. I'm sure he could on me, how much I wanted his asking.

"Good," he said as we entered the main hall. "I'll look for you." Then he settled his helmet back on and left.

Fourish never took so long to come.

The town was small, the pub on the side of it full of Us. The food was good, the wine very drinkable. We sat outside and ate and drank and watched the sun go down and the night come on, bright with two large moons and the splash of galaxy brilliant across the sky. We talked lightly and yet deeply, the way I've sometimes stood in the shadows and heard some of Them talk with old friends, phrases and sentences carrying meanings in layers so that we two heard more, knew more, than any listener could have. We stretched our legs out under the same corner of the table and let our feet touch, the physical contact We crave, and I felt easy with him, as I hadn't since I was assigned this miserable duty and left Jaxon and my cousins seven years earlier.

In fact, it felt even closer. Like with my quintiad.

I was lucky with my quintiad: we didn't lose one of us. The section wasn't so lucky, of course, in fact we were hit hard. They had to put down four of our first, when we were still not a year old. Rearranging us, the sergeants took a liberty and a chance: they could have (and should have by regs) disrupted all of us equally, sliding four down into the first and following, but they didn't. They took the unfortunate 2 (he later named himself Riddle) and put him into my quintiad, which had been fourth and now was third, as a sixth boy. Just as well they did, of course; both 6 and 7, relabelled 1 and 2, bore the scrutiny of the trainers for the rest of our term in crèche, since They didn't think he'd become quintiad-first but couldn't be sure (our personal number not being added to the tattoo that young) and didn't like to ask which of them was the former 2. But 6 and 7, Red and Eagle, didn't have the problem, whatever it was, and sailed through. We all watched 2, of course, curious as harrolans, to see what he'd do, but he seemed as normal as you could be, losing your whole quintiad like that...

Much later I talked to Ace about that. Why was it that my section, who lost six, was tapped for special training, when usually it was sections like his, who'd lost none until their final year, live fire in the field, who were. He said that, actually, while that was true for special ops and bodyguards and the like, as far as he knew most liaisons to DipCorp and politicians and noblemen, came from sections like mine. We speculated about that; he had a theory: they tapped a section early and then, if it was for some duty where they'd be dealing face to face with Them, They watched like krayt dragons and weeded out anyone who even looked unstable. Elite combat teams, snipers, guards... their sections were tapped in their fourth year and sent to special teams training, but ours had been marked from decanting. After all, he pointed out, if they waited until our fifth year to thin our ranks it would take them four and half to replace us.

He was probably right. It's cost effective. It just would never have occurred to me.

He was more... philosophical than I, more inclined to think about things deeply instead of skittering around the surface of them. He told me once, there was nothing like spending eight hours a day, day after day, standing in front of a door no one ever even tried to go through for making you think. "That or shoot yourself," he'd added.

And that's a funny thing, too... for all We don't disturb ourselves over dying, you almost never hear of one of Us killing ourselves. I don't know why that is.

I don't count dying to achieve a goal, carry out the mission, of course. And I'm not counting the youngsters who flirt with death, either, the ones who get carried away by Romance and start shooting to miss when they're particularly impressed with a grotesquely outnumbered enemy's bravery. That's not suicide, even if it ends in death. It's... I'm not sure what it is. A little madness, perhaps, a little contagious lunacy that races through a battle-squad and leads them into acts they'd never do alone. Those who die then are paying for the betrayal of their masters, and in the bright moment it's worth it to them, almost like trying to warm themselves inside the flame. I've seen it once, and heard of it oh, maybe a dozen times. Who knows? Maybe the pattern had a quirk in his soul, and bequeathed Us the craziness if nothing else.

But still, your quintiad are your brothers, closer than anyone else, and even if you never see them again you always feel as though they're nearby. You're close to your section, too, but not like that. And your lot? Even if as many as fifteen percent are lost, that's still thirty-six hundred. You can't know them all, can't even know many of them, even if you still feel a certain comfort when a stranger introduces himself and his lot number's the same as yours. I hadn't seen my quintiad since we finished up fifth year's special training eight years ago and were scattered across the Empire. I came into Jaxon's fostering, and got cousins, though I've only met one of them for more than the brief furlough when Jaxon died and three of us managed to get there. And rarely was there anyone else around to talk to. I'd gotten used to being alone.

I hadn't realized I was lonely.

Ace made me see I was. And then he showed me that I didn't have to be.

Even now, nineteen years later: a man over thirty and just the thought of him tightens my throat. I can close my eyes and see him: armored in white and poised; casually dressed and waiting; glowing with the radiance that, incredibly, my arrival would cause; laughing as we walked down a street somewhere; naked in bed, wanting me... I can hear his voice, I can feel his hands. Sometimes I could swear he was just behind me in a corridor, but he isn't.

I wish I had a god to rail at. And then I wish I had one to thank.

We had fifteen years, more apart than together, but Tarkin spent a lot of his time on Coruscant, and so did my Senator, and we found time to be together. We do get three weeks a year to go on break to crècheworld—like some sort of annual maintenance—and Ace's position meant he could match his to mine. I don't know what the Moff thought, if he even noticed which very likely he didn't. I only know that when I stepped off the ship Ace was there, or on his way.

Those were good times. The children don't get much time to play before training absorbs them, but with a new lot decanted every two months there are always children outside, running and laughing. And when we grew tired of them, or as tired as you ever can of boys so young they only have one number, don't even dream of names or, mostly, know of death, when we didn't want them around, there were lots of places to go. Two alone aren't—another thing he showed me.

And even on Coruscant there were places we could go. To talk, if nothing else.

Talking... I don't much, since I was tapped for this duty and came out among Them. Talking to Them is a hard and dangerous thing, and no one enjoys it but even when I'm with Us, I... I don't have conversation any longer. I don't see the galaxy as they do, a simple succession of worlds differing by things such as suns and moons and the color of the grass, places to go to stay a while while you do a job and then to leave, never knowing more than its name if that. I'm out of step.

Out of step. It's a phrase They use casually, but for Us it's terrifying. One of the hardest things We learn in training is how to march rout-step, feet hitting the ground deliberately individually. You have to pay so much attention to just walking to make sure you don't slip back into the stride that's bone deep in you, in you all, in Us all. At least one company a cycle has to bring a bridge down before that lot finally gets it, standing on the edge and looking at blood and broken bones and pain that resonates in your own body. Then you learn, but it's a hard lesson. And a skill virtually unneeded and never praised. Out of step... I was never out of step with Ace. Or out of words.

That was him, of course: a foot in both worlds, and so comfortable in himself that I was comfortable there, too. As if where he was was home. We could talk about the things I dealt with and then, slowly and easily, arrive at a place where I could remember how to be me.

I asked him once, why me? He'd paused then, troubled, his hand on my arm as he searched for the answer—for all his philosophy he wasn't sure. "I just love you," he said finally. "That's all. All," and his voice softened on the word.

I kissed him then and never asked again, but I think I knew. He couldn't resist my solitude, and having broken into it, he found a place that had been kept warm for him since long before I knew he was, or the place was, or that I was keeping it. All, indeed.

That first night we only talked, deep into the darkness. Only talked, as if talking isn't important. As if words aren't an edged weapon and a strong shield and a mask when we want them to be, and as if they aren't an open door, an unguarded hall, a naked face when we let them be. "We go there," Ace had said, meaning, "It's a safe place." Only Us around, soldiers pulling other-duties-as-assigned so that it was as safe a place as a place can be. But still... Safe is an illusion more often than not. It's hard to relax. I hadn't in years. I'd almost forgotten how.

Words. The reassuring touch of foot on foot. And once or twice the drift of fingers across the back of a hand, or pausing on a wrist. Intimacy is dangerous. Danger is exciting. Ace's eyes were all three.

Two nights later we went away, his second the only one who knew how to reach him, to a hunting lodge whose owner was long since disappeared into the war. If its roof and walls had been intact it would have been the sort of place he or I might have come with our Moff or Senator. As it was, they wouldn't have been caught dead there. Us? Ace was an active-duty guard, and as for me, while it had been years since I'd seen field duty it took considerably more than a cool spring night to discomfort me. If Ace was with me, it would have taken the end of the Empire.

And he was always with me, even when he wasn't, even when his Grand Moff and my Senator were dozens of parsecs apart.

Until he wasn't anywhere. Or anything.

We heard about it on Coruscant, of course. The Grand Moff Tarkin murdered by Rebels. That was all I needed to hear: no one could have gotten to Tarkin and Ace still be alive to let them. All politics aside, training or breeding, some jobs you have to do as well as you can do them. And Ace never thought the Rebels were any better than the Imperials, he'd never have slacked off or fired just off-target to let Tarkin die and his whole company die with the Moff for failing. Vader kills Them for an error; Us he kills without even noticing. And for what? Jedi-loving Rebels? What's that old saying They have about devils and deep seas?

And devils you know...

But always, always, devils.

Ace was gone. I knew it right away. I think it took me days to know what it meant.

It was weeks later than I found out about the battlestation, all of Them that died along with Tarkin, all of Us who died along with Ace...

And Alderaan.

Not that I hold any sort of brief for any of Them. But... My senator sees nothing wrong with the destruction of the Alderaanians, to the last puling and helpless baby, trapped in their long infancy, and their entire world along with them. And that's... frightening. I've known since I was a year old, maybe longer, that They created Us to kill and die for Them and don't think twice about Our deaths. Since I came out among Them I've learned They think that way about aliens, too, and droids. They're more careful of their beasts, really. But that They will slaughter Their own so casually, so even gleefully? How truly little We matter. How truly little anything matters.

It's not merely Palpatine, not merely Vader. My senator is no Dark Lord. He's just a human. Just one of Them. Just... ordinary.

I've been... troubled in my mind since then.

Are the Rebels better? That's not the question, really. Can they be worse?

Of course all that was a long time ago now. Four years. I've done my job, I've watched Them going about this war, and I've thought. I haven't reached any real conclusions, and I suppose I never will. Time's run out for thinking. Time's come for doing.

I've spent all night on this now. I don't know why; it's not like anyone will read it. Maybe I just needed to get my thoughts in order. Before I do it, at last. Now that it means something, now that the rebels will get the credit, once they win here. And it worked: though this is all over the place, I myself am grounded. Calm and centered and ready to go into battle. Only one thing still nags at me a little, one question time will answer soon enough.

I hope the First really did have knowledge the rest of Us don't, that they were taught things We aren't or guessed things We don't. I hope I'm going home today.

But even if I'm right, even if death just ends it and I'll never know or feel anything ever again, I'm still going home. Home is where he is.

Do We have souls? Sometimes I think We don't; sometimes I think the Jedi may have been right. And sometimes I think We have a soul, one, shared out among Us all, spread so thin, so thin...and that's why We love each other so and why We don't mind dying. And sometimes I don't think it even matters.

But at night, alone in the dark, I know We do.

I love him with all my soul.

The End


Original Fantasy:
  Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans
Original Fan Fiction
Star Wars | Power Rangers | Real Ghostbusters
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
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