Admiral Young - Thanks, glad you're happy! As for the next installment... Here it is!
Deep below the surface of Coruscant, Internment Camp 12 had been reborn out of the remains of an ancient transportation hub. Built in the days when Corusc City covered only a fraction of the planet’s surface, the hub had served as one of five in a network of above ground train systems.
Over the years, that transportation system had been forgotten, first becoming a subway system before being buried as the city rose high above its former levels. It had come to serve its new purpose in the aftermath of the Clone Wars, as a prison for Chancellor Palpatine’s political enemies, and then as an internment centre for undesirables. For the lost. For those people the Empire preferred to forget.
People like me
, Ly’ana thought.
Lying in the darkness, she waited for the alarm to sound. Listening to the sound of her heart beating, she thought about how she had come to be there – leaving the safety of the embassy to try and broker a comm. line to Coruscant, getting caught in the crowd as the stormtroopers rounded up all the non-humans, being transferred to this factory deep below the surface, and then the constant bone weary work day in and day out ever since.
Speaking of which… An alarm cut through the silence, signalling the beginning of a new day. Lights snapped on, momentarily blinding her. Breathing a heavy sigh, Ly’ana sat up, throwing off the blanket. She swung her feet down off the bed and slipped them into her shoes.
Standing up and stretching, she ignored the whirring sound as the holocam followed her every move. Let the guards watch her naked body, she didn’t care. She refused to sleep in the filthy overalls they gave the prisoners, bad enough she had to wear them during the day. If that meant they could leer at her when she got up in the morning and when she went to bed at night, so be it.
After using the fresher unit, she picked up the jumpsuit and slipped it on. The feel of the moist, grimy cloth against her skin gave her chills. She ignored it as best she could, keeping her face expressionless. Once she had finished dragging it on, she walked over to the door and stood, waiting.
It slid open. Ly’ana stepped out, keeping her eyes fixed on the wall in front of her. She didn’t need to look around anyway – she knew exactly what she would see. A long line of fellow inmates, all of them non-human, all of them female. The nearest ‘neighbours’ on her right were a Gamorrean and a Bothan; those on the left were a Rodian and a Gungan. All of the cells held two inmates, except for hers. She was one of the lucky ones, she supposed.
The door at the left end of the corridor slid open. Two stormtroopers stepped inside, helmets cradled in their arms. They studied the waiting prisoners before beginning their daily march down the line. As they passed each cell, they studied the prisoners, as if checking to make sure everyone was there. Where else would we be?
Ly’ana thought as they passed the Rodian and Gungan. None of us are ever getting out of this place.
One of the stormtroopers slowed as he neared her, his green eyes scanning her up and down. A scar on his cheek tightened as he leered at her.
She didn’t answer. There was no point. He stopped in front of her. Ly’ana kept studying the wall, as if he weren’t even there. He watched her for a moment, and then nonchalantly struck her across the face with his open hand. The blow wasn’t hard, but pain flared nonetheless.
“Twi’lek whore,” he said, spitting on the floor. He smiled again, then turned and followed his fellow trooper down the corridor.
Ly’ana stayed standing, fighting back the tears that stung her eyes. She refused to let them see her cry. She would not give them the satisfaction.
Once the troopers had checked every cell, they opened the door at the other end of the corridor. All of the prisoners turned as one and began to march out into the common eating area. Ly’ana followed the Gamorrean, ignoring the man who had struck her as she passed him. He leered at her, but left her alone.
The common area was a vast circular space, like a hub at the centre of a wheel. Ly’ana’s corridor was one of several spokes that branched out from that hub. Other lines of prisoners, some male and some female, filed out from other doors all the way around. Though every race was represented, there were very few humans, twenty or so amongst hundreds. Ly’ana wondered what those who were there could have done to deserve such a fate.
A large table had been set up in the middle of the room, with vast smoking vats piled on top. A handful of prisoners stood behind the table, serving food into metal bowls.
Ly’ana joined the others in line, careful not to study the people around her too closely. Her eyes never stopped moving though, as she surreptitiously studied the crowd. Various groups and clans had formed, clumps of people gathered against the walls. Ly’ana studied each face in turn, looking for changes.
She had been blessed with a holographic memory; it was one of the reasons Han had hired her. With that gift, she had been able to file away the faces of every person in the common room. She checked those faces against the ones she saw this morning - a handful were gone, while one or two new ones had appeared.
A normal day in Internment Camp 12.
When she reached the table, Ly’ana collected her bowl and walked past the vats. A Gamorrean female slopped some greyish goo into the bowl before an Aqualish male tossed an ancient husk of greying bread on top. Ly’ana never once met their eyes.
Shuffling away, Ly’ana hunkered down against the wall as far away as she could from anyone. Using the husk of bread, she scooped some of the goo into her mouth, fighting back the gag reflex as she felt something wiggle out of the crust and drop down her throat. She purposefully bit down, chewing hard before she swallowed.
As she ate, she kept a constant eye on the people around her. Her eyes fell on a small family unit of Rodians gathered a few metres away. The mother and father were sharing a single bowl of goo between themselves, leaving the extra bowl to their two children.
Ly’ana felt her stomach twist and she looked away. For a moment, memories assailed her, memories of the processing centre on Corellia where her family had spent time all those years before. Three whole weeks, sleeping on the floor and eating leftovers a local charity donated. Every night, her mother had sent her off to sleep with the promise that the next day would be the day, the day they finally left the centre for their new home.
And that day had come, eventually. For this family, though…
She glanced down at her own bowl, the food turning to ash in her mouth. Telling herself she was a fool, she stood up and headed over to the Rodians.
The mother looked up, instinctively gathering her children against her. Ly’ana tried a smile, allowing her lekku to shake softly as a sign of welcome. The gesture only seemed to frighten the woman even more. She hooted urgently at her husband, who looked up as well. His eyes narrowed and he started to get to his feet.
Ly’ana stopped where she was, her smile falling away. She should have known better than to expect them to greet her with open arms. Still, she had come this far.
Dropping to her haunches, she set the bowl and the bread down, and then stood up again. Smiling briefly at the two children, she turned and walked away.
After a few steps, she glanced back. The husband had scurried forward to grab the bowl. Clutching it in both hands, he hurried back to his family. She watched him hand it to his wife, who took a small bite of bread before handing it down to one of her children.
Ly’ana smiled as she walked back to her place. She would probably regret the gesture when hunger set in, but it felt good nonetheless. Good to have done something to help someone.
She spent the rest of the meal time pacing a small section of floor, getting in some exercise before the day began. When the alarm sounded, she joined the others in line and marched back into her corridor. Once they were all inside, the door to the common area shut and the one at the other end cycled open. Again, they filed out, this time into a circular corridor that connected all of the others – the outer circle of the wheel.
A large set of double doors lay a few meters away. Ly’ana’s line was waved to a halt as the doors opened, then motioned forward onto the factory floor beyond.
A labyrinth of walkways and assembly line belts, the factory smelt of oil and the sharp tang of ozone. Everything was as it had been the day before, half-assembled engine parts waiting patiently for them to return. Ly’ana took her place at one of the lower belts between the Gungan and the Gamorrean. Other lines moved past them, climbing rungs or mounting steps to reach other sections. Once everyone was in place, the alarm sounded again and the great doors slid shut. When the metallic echo of the closing doors had faded, the assembly line creaked into motion.
The empty husks of engine mountings slid before Ly’ana, bouncing along the belt. As each one passed in front of her, Ly’ana reached underneath the belt, grabbed a power unit, slapped it into the left hand side of the mounting and pushed it into place. When it reached the Gungan, she welded one side of the power unit – a young Dug welded the other.
Ly’ana fell quickly into a rhythm. Her mind started to wander, back to the first few days she had spent there. The work had seemed insurmountable – on her first day alone, she dropped over two dozen power units, put another dozen in backwards, while the Dug had broken twenty or so more by welding over the power unit’s control padd. Both of them had earned nights in solitary confinement, as well as a beating from a squad of troopers.
Over time, though, she had gotten used to the thoughtless motions, until now she could do it without a single mistake. Her own body had been honed into a well oiled cog in this vast machine.
Which is what they want
, she thought. The assembly line could have been manned by droids much more efficiently. And at much less cost. The Empire had them do it to show them what they were – lesser beings, more expendable than mechanical servants. Slave labour.
And there is nothing we can do about it.
The morning passed in a mindless haze. Her mind wandered from the factory floor. She wondered what Han was doing, whether he had found a way off world. When she had left him, he had been lost in another alcohol induced fog. She hoped he was alright.
Most of the time, she thought about her family. Her parents and her two sisters. Had they gotten off Corellia in time? Did the Empire have them? She wished she could find some way to communicate with them, to talk with them one last time. She knew it was a futile hope, though. She would die down here, in this work camp. It was inevitable. The only question was when and how.
The siren rang for lunch, dragging her out of her reverie. She placed the power unit she had just picked up back beneath the assembly line belt and followed the other prisoners out of the factory, through the corridors and back into the common area again.
Lunch was some kind of processed meat, slathered with a spicy sauce to hide the rancid taste. Ly’ana ignored the taste. She was hungry, she needed her strength. She also avoided looking around – she couldn’t afford the weakness pity might induce in her.
She had almost finished the meal when a shadow fell over her. She tried to ignore whoever it was, keeping her face down and hoping he or she would go away. Instead the person stood there, waiting for her to react. After a few minutes, she looked up.
The stranger was human. She caught a glimpse of a handsome – though scarred and bruised – face, and a tall lanky frame before she looked away. Her eyes picked out blood stains on his work clothes. His body language spoke of defeat, but that was belied by something in his eyes. A light she hadn’t seen in anyone else here in the work camp.
He isn’t afraid. He’s angry.
He dropped to his haunches beside her, not looking at her for longer than a few seconds, his eyes constantly scanning the crowd of slaves. Ly’ana picked at the remains of meat in her bowl, wishing he would go away and leave her alone.
Instead, he spoke.
“I saw what you did.”
She felt a flush of heat in her cheeks, cursing herself for helping those Rodians. She had wanted to stay off anyone’s radar, even another slave’s, and now her moment of weakness had gotten her noticed.
“This morning?” the man pushed. “That was a brave thing you did.”
Ly’ana closed her eyes. What did he want? Was he going to ask her for food? Did he think to blackmail her into something? Why didn’t I just leave well enough alone?
“I haven’t seen many people willing to help others. Everyone seems to be more interested in helping themselves.”
More fool me.
She kept her eyes closed, praying to whoever or whatever might be listening for him to just go away.
“Some of us are like you. Willing to help one another to survive. A group of us, humans and non, we’ve started to work together. We’re looking for people like you.”
She was so surprised that she forgot to ignore him. She looked up, her eyes widening. He smiled at her, though the smile never touched the anger in his eyes.
“So you can hear me.” He looked away again, the smile vanishing as if it had never been. “None of us can survive down here on our own. Those of us willing to have formed a little group. We meet over there, by the fresher pipes.”
She glanced over in the direction he mentioned, on the other side of the table. A loose knot of beings sat, stood or lay around a series of pipes and tubes that carried water and waste from the cells. She frowned. She had studied that area more than once, but had never noticed any kind of a group. Apart from a handful – none of whom were together – none of the people she saw there now had been there the day before.
As she looked harder, though, she saw one of them pass a bowl to another one, who took a bite of bread before hiding the bowl in his lap. After a few moments, he yawned, and then stood to stretch. A Toydarian flew past just at that moment, grabbing the bowl from the man’s outstretched hand and then flying over to another group.
Looking closer, she realised that while every other part of the common area held knots of one race, this loose grouping had representatives from almost every race, including another Twi’lek. How did I miss that?
“We try not to make it too obvious,” the human continued, as if reading her mind. “None of us sit there all the time, we try and move around as much as possible, but when we need to we know that is where we can gather, find support, a helping hand or just a kind word. We share food, and we try and keep up our spirits. Give ourselves hope.”
“Sounds like a stupid idea,” Ly’ana said finally. She tried to make it sound harsh, but it came out unsure. “One likely to get you all killed.”
“About as stupid an idea as sharing your food with someone you don’t even know when you need all your strength.”
Bastard. She had no come back to that.
After a moment, he stood, looking over at the doors. “I just wanted to make the offer. If you’re interested, you know where we are. You will be more than welcome.”
Ly’ana was grateful to see him leave, and yet a little part of her didn’t want him to. She realised that he was the first person she had spoken to since the round-up. And in a small indescribable way, he reminded her of Han.
He had taken a few steps when she spoke. The sound of her own voice surprised even herself. “What is your name?”
He stopped, turning his head sideways, so that he wasn’t looking back at her but she could see his face in profile.
“Lance. My name is Lance.”
And then he was gone.
Later, once the day was done, she lay on her bed, thinking about Lance’s offer. His little group seemed like a bad idea, but she couldn’t help but feel tempted. It would be nice to have someone to talk to again. How much could they really do, though? she asked herself. Could the benefits really be worth risking standing out from the crowd?
She was struggling with those thoughts when she heard the door open at the end of the corridor. She froze – the doors never opened outside of hours unless the troopers were coming to bring in a new prisoner… Or to take an old one for questioning.
The sound of the trooper’s feet sent involuntary shudders down her lekku. As they continued to get closer, she closed her eyes, praying they would carry on, that they would stop at some other cell. In her mind’s eye, though, she saw the look on the trooper’s face as he called her a Twi’lek whore and Lance’s words echoed in her ears. I saw what you did.
Her heart threatened to stop when the steps ceased just outside her cell. She clenched her eyes closed, a foolish hope resonating in her mind – if I pretend to be asleep, they will leave me alone.
The door opened.
A gasp rent the air, followed by a thud as something hit the floor. Ly’ana held her breath, waiting for the hands on her shoulders pulling her up and out of the cell…
The door closed.
As the steps faded back down the corridor, she kept her eyes closed. As the door opened at the end of the corridor, she kept her eyes closed. As silence fell on the cell block once again, she kept her eyes closed.
Only when a few minutes had passed did she open them. She stared at the ceiling for a moment, and then she looked down at the floor.
A woman huddled in the dark, what little light filtered through underneath the door picking out the tattered remains of a white dress that barely hid bruises and cuts covering the body beneath. Ly’ana stared at the woman in surprise, the only coherent thought in her mind that they had not come for her.
When the woman began to sob, Ly’ana snapped out of it, jumping off the bed and dropping to her knees. She reached out carefully, laying a hand on the curved back, feeling more than hearing the sharp intake of breath. She left her hand there for a moment, waiting for the newcomer to relax.
“Shhh,” she said after a moment, starting a slow stroking motion over the person’s back. “You’re alright. You’re safe.”
After a few minutes, the sobs began to calm. Once they had dwindled down to sniffles, the woman lifted her head.
She was human. Ly’ana took in the puffed up skin, bloodshot eyes and cuts on her cheeks, and assayed a comforting smile to hide the horror she felt. “You’re safe here,” she repeated, trying to sound convincing. “My name is Ly’ana.”
“Wh-Where am I?”
Ly’ana forced down a wince at the woman’s broken voice, wondering what the troopers had done to her and then realising that she would rather not know.
“You’re in an internment camp. Beneath the surface. Do you remember how you got here?”
“I… I don’t know. I was… I was somewhere else. Then I was here.”
“Do you remember your name?”
The woman’s eyes lost focus for a moment, then she shook slightly. “Leia,” she said finally, looking at Ly’ana. “My name is Leia.”
On a side note, if any of you are interested, I have a second story going on at the same time, Star Wars based but very different to this one, entitled the Soulreaper Chronicles. Check it out!