Darkness in the Stars: A Single Cog in the Empire
This is, in short, the story of an individual caught in the cogs of the Galactic empire. It is not a story about Jedi, or rebellions, but about how the average person in the galaxy could join the service of the empire without any desire to be or inflict evil.
A slightly longer explanation is that this is a backstory I wrote for my character in a Star Wars roleplaying game. I play a Chiss doctor in her mid-twenties (Chiss = blue skinned, red eyed species from the mysterious planet of Csilla). Fans of Firefly may notice that Neomara carries echoes of Simon Tam. This was a deliberate homage in her creation, although I’ve worked hard to develop my own twist.
This is first and foremost a character study. I am not a doctor, computer hacker, or demolition expert. Nor have I exhaustively read every book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (although I have been a fan nearly all my life). I am sure that there are incorrect facts at various points in this story, and I ask that it be read with a forgiving spirit (as indeed, we give most of Star Wars!).
Half a Lifetime Ago
The Ice Fields of Csilla
“Nadesh!!! There you are!” Neomara panted as she chased her little brother down from the ramp and onto the slick ice field. She’d already been following him for a half an hour and was getting pretty frustrated. Since when did he get so fast? Well, at least he hadn’t stolen a speeder.
Nadesh turned around with an annoyed expression. It was sunset, so the ice glare was not as bad as normal, and the brown eyes he’d inherited from their human mother dealt with the sunlight better than Neomara’s red ones, which were protected with a visor. But Neomara wasn’t focusing on their genetic variations, she was zeroing in on the blaster in her brother’s hands. “Where did you get that?”
The boy looked up at her innocently. “Charmangar left it in the lounge suite,” he explained.
Neomara gasped. “Mother is going to fire him for that!”
“Cool,” said Nadesh. “Then I can be her bodyguard.”
“Nadesh, you are nine.”
“So? I’m the best in my self-defense class, and look!” He pulled a complicated contraption of vials and wires out from his backpack. “It’s basic chemistry, but I’m going to prove that you can make a bomb just from things out of the medicine cabinet. We need to know this kind of stuff, in case they ever take away our right to bear arms.”
Neomara sputtered. “No one is going to say that! Guns are too easy to buy as it is! Besides, our grandmother is a doctor. We don’t have an ordinary medicine stash!”
“Most Chiss have expanded medicinal supplies,” Nadesh protested. “I couldn’t get ahold of a laser, though. Grandmother keeps that locked up. So I thought the blaster would work as an igniter. Look!” He knelt down on the ground, slipped the blaster into a slot in the mechanism, and hit a red button.
“Nadesh!” Neomara shrieked. “What does that button do!”
“You’ll see in three minutes!” He exclaimed, grabbing her hand. “Run!”
An Imperial Starcruiser
The room was dark, cold, quiet. Neomara closed the door behind her, latched it carefully, then stood in the stillness. Were they watching her even now? Had they planted bugs in her room? She couldn’t be certain.
Couldn’t take the risk.
She slipped out of her scrubs. She wanted to tear them off and throw them in the incinerator, like so much refuse. But she couldn’t. She’d give everything away.
So instead she carefully folded them as normal and left them in the hamper. Someone would come and take them away and leave her fresh ones tomorrow.
She slipped beneath the sheets, just one thin layer between her skin and the coldness of space. She liked the cold, it reminded her of Csilla. But tonight she couldn’t help wishing for more to shield her from the watching eyes around her.
Thirty-seven days. That’s how long she’d been on the cruiser. Twenty-nine full shifts, seven major surgeries, fifty-two hours in the research lab and one file she never should have seen.
In the Further Past
University of Theed, Naboo
“We should always know the truth,” Grandmother Zareal had said on the day of her graduation. She had handed Neomara a sleek steel scope, of the very newest tech. “A Doctor must always seek further knowledge.”
But none of the other grandparents had said any such thing. They had veiled their emotions, as politicians do, showing only appropriate pride as they’d read her name off the roll of graduates. Only later that night, when they were alone, did Mother come into her dorm room bearing a deep sadness in her eyes.
“What is it?” Neomara had asked.
Mother sat on the bed, her pale hand resting on Neomara’s blue one. They looked so little alike, for in Neomara the distinctive blue skin and red eyes of the Chiss had bred true. Yet they shared the same delicate cheekbones and long, sensitive fingers that had made Neomara such an excellent surgeon. “You’ve been in your books a very long time,” she said. “Things are… changing.”
“I thought we supported the Emperor.”
“There are rumors that…” Mother bit her lip and glanced towards the door. It was a look Neomara had noticed on Mother’s face more and more over the passing years. It was as though she expected to find someone watching her. “You know that the Emperor assumed control of the senate to control the corruption. And yet we still always had a voice, always had the right to elect representatives and appoint ambassadors.”
“Yes. Grandfather Zareal has always spoken proudly of this.”
“Grandfather Zareal has spoken loudly to ensure our family’s safety under the rule of the Empire,” Mother said quietly. “And for this we are grateful. But now you go into the service of the Empire. We are proud of you, and we know you will achieve great things for medical science, but Neomara… Lord Aanowen has warned us. The Emperor plans to dissolve the Senate. We will no longer have even this hallow shell of independence.”
Neomara caught her breath. The Aanowens and the Zareals had always spoken candidly with one another – more, perhaps, than was wise. To share such news as this was tantamount to treason. “Why do you tell me this?” She asked.
“The Empire’s reach has grown so minutely since the Clone Wars that we could choose to ignore it. Tiny freedoms here and there, stripped away… only fools would die over the loss of one seat here, one mining right there. But now we step back and look at the entire picture and we see – we understand what the Rebellion has been-,”
“Mother!” cried Neomara. Now she understood why Mother watched the door so warily. “Do not say any more!”
Mother shook her head. “No, of course I shall not. But you must know what you are heading in to. There is such deep integrity in you, my dear. They have recognized your excellent academics and I think you will rise very swiftly. I fear what you will find at the heart of your journey.”
An Imperial Starcruiser
At the heart of your journey…
Neomara stared up into the darkness. She had wanted to believe that there would never be an evil in the heart of a realm of healing. Had wanted to believe that the oath of a doctor would call only the most scrupulous of scholars to the cause of healing. But now, not two months into her residency, she had found her mother’s worries more than true.
So innocent, just another shift entering data in the med lab. Most residents would never have recognized the patterns. But Neomara had always had an affinity for computers beyond the typical med student, and she had followed her suspicions, digging deeper and deeper into subfolders and encryption until the truth was laid bare.
The virus was meant to act as an auto-nanosurgeon, snipping and changing mutated DNA on radiation victims. There had been much success in the initial trials, and other applications were being explored in test creatures. She had been combing data from Surgeon Trutt’s notes, and Trutt had accidently included a file that he certainly did not intend her to see. Results from using the virus to modify human behavior DNA.
In other words, to make them susceptible to brainwashing.
Life long conditioning of their troopers was not enough. The Empire wanted to control their minds.
Neomara shuddered. Was that not what they said of the Jedi? That they had held sway over the galaxy by mind control? And only the Emperor and Lord Vader were strong enough to resist that control? Was it not said that for this reason the Jedi had been eliminated?
And yet now the Empire would unleash a virus that would allow them to strongly manipulate the thoughts and emotions of their armies?
It was a terrifying thought.
Neomara had never acted rashly in her life, but this time something in her snapped. Do no harm. Leaving this data extant would do a great deal of harm.
All it took was one highlight, one click, and the data was deleted forever.
Yet even then she had a second chance. Could retrieve it from the dump files, could restore it and pretend she’d never found it.
Laying in the dark, in the cold, in the silent, she shuddered as she remembered making that second click, the final deletion that had changed her fate forever.
A Bit Further Ago
“My mother is worried,” she’d whispered, certain her words were hidden under the thump and drone of the techno music.
Lowan Aanowen tossed his light brown hair to the side and swiveled around on his barstool to casually keep an eye on the rest of the dive. “Yeah. My father is too,” he’d admitted.
Neomara kept her eyes scanning the area behind the bar to make sure no one was eavesdropping. It was a rundown place, a joint they’d have frequented in their school days only as an act of rebellion. Or rather, Lowan’s idea of a rebellious adventure. Neomara wasn’t much into rebelling. They’d agreed to meet up for drinks for old time’s sake when their ships happened to dock at the same port.
“If the senate -,” she stopped and let her words hang. He’d know what she meant. No need to risk their lives by saying more.
“We might have to make some choices,” Lowan agreed. He took a gulp of his luminescent green drink. Then he coughed and sputtered. “What’s in that, fermented glow worms?”
Neomara laughed passed him her more conservative, non-glowing drink. Under the glass was a coaster napkin, on which she’d been doodling. “Just in case,” she said, with a subtle nod down to the napkin.
“Thanks,” said Lowan. He picked up the glass, and to any observers appeared to be washing out the pungent taste of the green drink. But Neomara knew that he was memorizing the dropsite code and password she’d hidden in the napkin doodle. “That’s helpful.” He set the glass back down, purposefully placing it so that the condensation smudged the ink.
“I hope you’ll be more cautious in your drink ordering choices in the future,” she replied with a grin.
But they both knew she wasn’t referring to drinks.
An Imperial Starcruiser
Trutt wouldn’t be back on duty for another eight hours. That was enough time to plan something – but what? She could claim that it was an accident, but Trutt was no fool (even if he was absent minded). He’d complimented her quick coding before, that was why he’d given her the assignment in the first place. Once he realized what he’d done, he would also put together her responsibility for the missing files, and he’d know she could not possibly both delete the files and empty the dump folder by mistake.
Could she plant a computer bug? One that would appear to randomly delete files? Difficult, it would be an obvious plant if she only deleted non-essential files, and she couldn’t justify deleting important research. Plus a virus would be traceable to point of origin, and since they hadn’t docked recently, it would mean a magnifying glass over anyone with access to the secure med ports.
The very best outcome was imprisonment in a deep dark cell, lost to memory.
More likely they’d use her as a test subject for the virus.
Maybe her family too.
It took all of her willpower not to spring up out of bed in alarm. Everyone knew that the Empire always went after family. Even if she could convince them she was an insolated renegade, they would still punish her family for her transgression, as an example to others. Worse, they’d open an official investigation into the Zareal family movements, which would lead to the Aanowens as well. Mother and Father had been discreet, but Neomara was certain they were hiding much darker sympathies and worries than they’d ever shared with their children.
Even as she was weighing the dangers, a plan formed in her head. She remembered a long ago explosion on a sunset ice field, and the questioning that had followed. Nadesh had been punished, severely, but Father had still wanted to learn how the bomb worked.
Not only did Neomara have all the components in her med kit, but as a crewmember on an Imperial Starcruiser, she carried a light blaster at all times. Of course, it would be dangerous not to have any form of weapon with her afterwards, but then again, she couldn’t carry a weapon she could be traced by.
Her natural inferred vision allowed her to work in the dark and she used a manual screwdriver. Even if they did have a tap on her room, they wouldn’t hear a sound, and no electronic logs would indicate any sort of power surge.
When it was time to emerge, she threw a dressing robe over her medical fatigues. Her med kit was strapped around one leg, the bomb around another. This concealed her until she got to the bathroom door. Once there, she locked herself in, then got to work tearing out paneling. She had never been as good at mechanics as she was at surgery, but the principals were the same. Work quickly and don’t cut a live vessel without clamping it first.
It was an hour before she was through to the next corridor over. During that time two people knocked on the bathroom door, but she made retching noises and they quickly scampered away.
“Zareal has food poisoning,” she imagined them saying.
And then the next day they’d say, “What a tragedy. If she hadn’t been puking all night, no one would have been harmed. What a waste.”
There. The last panel slipped away and she could crawl through. On the other side of the wall was the narrow artery that connected the escape pod to the ship. She set the bomb into the hole, so it would blow out both the bathroom and the escape pod, looking like a faulty wiring accident. Then she pressed the red button.
3:00 – climb into the pod.
2:30 – strapped in.
2:04 – eject button pressed.
1:51 – door closed and sealed.
1:11 – pod ejected.
:33 – twenty meters out from cruiser.
Run Neomara. Run!
No. Not Neomara anymore. She’d chosen her new name already, even though she hadn’t known what she’d be using it for. The passcode she’d given Lowen, which she would use now to contact him and ask for help.
(Read more of Elanatintil’s writing at her Blog)