Weep for them, not for me. I escaped, but they are still in hell.
When I close my eyes, I can see the rows and rows of prefabricated shelters, the constant rain lashing against them and dripping down the sides. The muddy ground flooded every night and did not drain away until evening. After the first month, all of our shoes had rotted off of our feet. Only the stormtroopers, in their white armor, stayed dry. Very little could grow in that place except disease, which devastated us as our immune systems shriveled from lack of food and rest.
The last day greeted me as I huddled against the wall of Block 13, watching rain drip through the leaky roof and collect in a dirty puddle on the floor by my feet. My blanket barely kept me warm, but I had tucked it under my toes in an attempt to block the omnipresent drafts. They would bring in our morning food soon, if you could even call the thin porridge food. Still, it was warm and we were grateful for anything we could get. When my wingmate died, I left her body in the bunk for three days so I could eat her meals. For three days my stomach did not ache from hunger. After the three days I grieved, and to my shame I grieved as much for the lost rations as for her passing. Death was escape, and tears had no place in the prisoner camp. It was wet enough already.
Something was in the air that day. I could see it in the confused rushing of the stormtroopers, just as hours later I could see the red and green of blaster fire reflecting off the blank stare of their black eyes. The rain continued into the morning, as it often did, and that morning our porridge did not come.
I stepped out into the sea of mud, my bare feet barely even protesting anymore, my blanket clutched tightly about my shoulders to ward off the chill. The guard did not look at me. He stood up straight, instead of leaning as usual against the side of the building. I wanted to congratulate him for discovering his backbone, but humor fades along with the last vestiges of humanity, and there was no place for it there.
You discover quickly that there is nowhere to go. At first I walked to keep up my strength; eventually I learned just to stand, and that was almost too much. The guards were the only changing part of my surroundings, and so I watched them. They all looked the same at first, but then there were little things about them, like a slight swagger or a tilt of the head, that identified them. The guard who brought our food always hesitated at the door. The guard who came to take the bodies away would glance constantly over his shoulder; maybe he was afraid we would eat him. We were certainly hungry enough. They all slouched, except the new ones. The new ones walked around with pride in their steps, but that soon faded as the dampness set in.
And this guard was not new. The new ones jumped when I came out in the morning. They never thought that a prisoner could prefer the open cold to the claustrophobic shelter, warmed as it was by the press of bodies. There had been no new guards for awhile. We should have noticed the signs, but our minds were frozen from the cold and lack of food. It wasn't until I saw the flashing lights that I realized what was happening. My last battle had been Hoth, over a year ago, but I had not forgotten blaster fire. The sounds, deafening, thunderous sounds, reached us, and the guard and I together looked up into the sky.
That was when we knew it was all over. The Rebellion had found us. So I turned and went back into the shelter with my blanket. None of us had the energy to rejoice. Some smiled. Some didn't. We sat on the floor or our bunks and watched the door, waiting for something. We were not even sure what would happen. All we knew was that it was over. By the end of the day, we would either be free or dead.
After hours of waiting, they arrived. We heard more firing, then it stopped and a young woman, a little younger than I, stepped in, blaster raised. She stopped short and lowered her weapon, said something into a comlink, then lifted her head and smiled at us. "The war is over. You're free." Such a clich?. Such a relief. Such welcome news.
And I, staring stupidly at her, could only say, "Do you have any food?" Nothing congratulatory. Nothing thankful. Simply the only thing that truly mattered to us anymore.
I do not know what she thought of us, women like her in name only. I did not doubt at the time that I would be a human again, but in that moment I still felt ashamed, because I truly did not care. My stomach was a black hole, directing all of my actions. My head ached from the abrupt change in routine. My feet were numb from the cold, and I knew I would lose a few toes . . . if I were lucky. This woman, with color in her cheeks and the light of victory shining in her eyes, was as much an alien to me as the guards had been. Except that she would feed me.
As we filed out hours later, knowing that a transport waited with medical supplies, warm beds, and hot food, I looked at our guard. He had taken off his helmet. I don't think he was much older than I. He looked confused, and water dripped from his hair down his face. Slumping again, he simply stood by the door and watched us leave as his world fell apart.
But this was my world too, and it had been for a year. Everything was changing. The prisoners were the victors and our captors were the ones without shelter from the rain. His eyes were blank, inhuman. Just like mine. I did not recognize him without his mask, just as he did not recognize me through his confusion.
So I did the only thing I could. I took the battered, precious blanket from my shoulders and put it around his. His eyes found mine. I nodded. Then I walked away, and I did not look back.
Weep for them, not for me. I am gone, but they are still there.
Original cover by Lyra Luminara. HTML formatting copyright 2005 TheForce.Net LLC.