The stars are out tonight. It is a change from yesterday, when the tiny dots of light were obscured by this wretched planet?s clouds. It is a change from the day before that, as well, when the moon was shining brightly and the stars were dim.
They don?t care if the stars are out or not, you see; if a cataclysmic event occurred and the heavens went dark, they would still put me outside to stare at the vast emptiness it left behind. I can only be thankful that they allow me to look outside at all. It is my one comfort in this torturous existence. The heavens are my only refuge; the stars hold my only hopes.
Things did not use to be this way. Once, what seems like a very long time ago, the stars were what I gazed at for fun, what I learned about in school, what I flew between in ships. Once, a long time ago, I was free.
The Rebel Alliance was my life back then. I had been a naive student, more concerned with ideals and morals than my education and survival. I am not sure if that is a bad thing- one must stay true to oneself in all things- but ideals and morals certainly brought me more than my fair share of trouble.
We had been sent on a mission, my friend and I; an intelligence mission. We both came from acting backgrounds. It was an increasingly rare art form, but our home planet had been a supporter of the theater. As with many things, it was both a blessing and a curse. Our training complete, we were sent to infiltrate an Imperial base with the hope that we would discover confirmation or denial of the newly-developed biological weapons the Alliance had been hearing rumors about.
We joked about our assignment while we were in hyperspace en route to the planet. ?How to become an Imperial 101? we thought it should be called. We were in good spirits. We had our state-of-the-art faked identchips, plenty of Imperial credtchits, background stories, and a plan developed by the best strategists the Rebellion had to offer. What we did not have, unfortunately, was luck.
We had only been playing the Imperial game for eleven standard days when they discovered us. Perhaps we were just bad actors. Perhaps we had been set up. Whatever the reason, one evening a squad of stormtroopers barged into the computer room where we were working the night shift. The captain announced that they had discovered that we were no ordinary Imperial technicians and proceeded to arrest us. We were then thrown, quite unceremoniously, into separate cells in the detention block of the base.
Back when we were still Rebel agents in-training, they used to tell us that if we were ever captured, we should exit the situation in any way possible. The Emperor?s minions had already confiscated our emergency suicide capsules, but there were always ways of ?exiting the situation.? I was frightened, of course, scared of the things the Empire might do to me, but I was not ready to die. There was still hope, however slim, that my friend and I could get back together and get away.
We made an attempt- we were going to make an attempt- to escape. Our cells were adjacent to each other, and we could communicate by tapping on the frigid metal plates enclosing them. But it didn?t take long for the guards to figure out that we were up to something, and they moved me to another cell far across the hall the next day.
They didn?t come to jeer at me at all that morning. Soon it was suppertime- if cold, stale rations could be called ?supper?- and they still had not come. I began to worry, which led to pacing. My back was to the door when some junior officer poked his head in and told me that my friend was dead.
?Broke the food tray in half and bled to death,? he said as he turned to leave.
?Wait!? I called, ?What will be done with the body??
?The body?? he asked, ?Oh, it will be disposed of in the usual way. I suppose you?d like to say goodbye?? He taunted with a contorted grin.
?Please,? I said.
I was surprised when he agreed. I suppose there wasn?t much entertainment to be had on the secluded base. Watching a Rebel mourn for the dead would probably be the most exciting thing the officer would see in a long time. But his thoughts were of little consequence to me. I did not seek to mourn so much as to find out the truth. I had heard about the things Imperials did to break people. Claiming that a close friend or family member was dead was one of their favorite tricks. I would not allow them to play mind games with me.
We reached the cell, and it was as he had said. My friend had departed the mortal world. My friend, who had been joking and laughing just days earlier, was now nothing more than a body- cold, devoid of all emotion. Perhaps it was for the best. There is one thing to be said for being dead: you feel no pain.
The junior officer led me back to my cell, and there I stayed for three days without any occurrence more exciting than the appearance of my food trays. I contemplated attempting what my friend had done, but the sly Imps began delivering my food on trays made of woven tree leaves, and tree leaves did not help me at all.
On the fourth day after my friend?s death, the torture began in earnest. They brought their Intel people, they brought their droids, they brought their faked documents and holos and drugs. They talked, they yelled, they screamed. They poked and prodded and slapped. The only thing they never did, I noted as I drifted in and out of drugged slumber, was plead. Begging was obviously beneath them.
Once one of them asked me what I loved best in the entire galaxy. ?The stars,? I replied, hoping to avoid any remarks about my family or home planet.
?Well then, we?ll just see how much you love those precious stars of yours after you?ve been sitting under them every night for a few months!? he sneered.
My answer had obviously displeased him. Nevertheless, from that day onward they always put me outside at night to sleep under the stars. It is a pleasant experience, no doubt, on some planets. This particular planet, though, is no paradise world. If it is not raining, it is foggy, and if it is not foggy, it is usually raining. Outside the shelter of the base walls, it is cold, and I can never sleep.
The officer chose well if his intent was to torture me. I live a sleepless existence, torture by day and torture by night. But although it is cold, the stars still shine. I prefer the frigid nights to the terrible days. The stars remind me that there are billons of beings out there, living lives apart from mine, but still as connected to me as I am to them. The stars sing to me that there is hope, there is always hope. The vast scope of space makes me feel so alone, and often afraid, but at the same time the heavens are my refuge. As in death, there is no pain to be found in them. Beings have pain, life has pain, even the stars in some arcane way may have pain, but the heavens do not. There, everything is cold and dark, but peaceful. What chaos there may be is covered by the deep blackness of space, and what good there is to be found finds light and strength in the brightest stars shining forth from the darkness. I could never hope to find a better refuge.
The cold is beginning to get to me now. Their drugs and tricks took a great toll on me today, and I told them that I could not take much more. They laughed, as they always do, but I know that I was right. The sky above me is growing darker and the stars are shining brightly, brighter than they ever have before. My thoughts fly to my home, my family--- I hope that they are well. My heart flies to my fellow Rebels--- I hope that they will continue their fight against the brutal regime that is the Empire. I see now that they will triumph?the things I can see now! Still the sky grows darker; the stars shine brighter?.
I am leaving.
Yes, I am finally leaving; leaving the Imperials, leaving the planet, leaving it all.
I am leaving for a place where I can be free, the place where I belong?
I am leaving for a home amongst the stars.
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