1I stand at the forefront of this ship which the Emperor has ordered me to command. A sense of disquiet stirs in me as I watch the stars and their bright twinkling. The joy that seems to be reflected in their flickering light is almost offensive, obscene to me. I wonder how there is joy, how there is anything but pain today.

I watch my men through peripheral senses that extend through the Force, noting the way my moods are reflected onto them like colors bleeding from a painting left in the rain. They are uneasy with one another, and short, terse sentences are exchanged. They all watch me, waiting for me to become angry. I allow myself to revel in the force of their fear that raises me up upon wings of dark rage. It is good, and allows me a brief escape.

The reason for my mood, however, does not allow me to escape it. I close my eyes, hoping to drown out the light of the too-bright stars. I dreamed of Padmé last night; I did not want to provoke the thought or the dream, but it comes to me anyways, a bitter reminder.

Her eyes were bright with undimmed tears as she watched me. I could not move; the force of her penetrating, seemingly all-knowing gaze permeated my very soul, seeing everything there was. I tried to resist her, tried to protest against the accusation I had seen in her, felt in her, as one tear slowly caressed her porcelain cheek.

She looked cold, like she needed my warmth, desired me to touch her and impart some of the life within me. But I still could not move, and as I looked down at my hand, I realized something.

I was as cold as she was, as dead as the expression in her eyes. Even the fact that we were together, somehow united in eternity did not help. For even in the life-after-life, she still accused me with her silence, her cold eyes and her thinned lips.

I tried to reach out to her, tried still to touch her with my hand, thinking that somehow we would better off together then apart. I do not allow myself to shudder as I think of what happened; visible emotion is a weakness that I will not permit in front of my men. But inside my heart, there is a slow, whispering voice that screams softly at the remembrance.

My hand caught fire. Slowly, with the rest of my arm, it burst into red, searing flames until my whole body was lit in fire. I screamed with the pain as it consumed me, much as my soul had been consumed by hate. But even through the pain, somehow, I managed to look up to see the form of my wife.

She had somehow caught fire from the same flame that consumed me, and it slowly burned her. I screamed again, and this time it was of desperation that went beyond concern for myself. It is amusing to me now in a bitter twist of satire that only in my dreams I am able to be selfless.

Her eyes regarded me once more, and this time, they seemed to be filled with a sense of hope that even the fires did not dim. She somehow transferred some of that hope to me, and I felt my heart swelling in a way it had not in what seemed to be an eternity. The hope was almost painful in its intensity. It captured me, uplifting me, sending me into the rapture of her love, even as we burned together. The only thing I felt besides the intense hope and love was a sense of regret that she was dying with me, because she deserved so much more; it was only me that should have been condemned to writhe in fire.

Even just as her hand reached out to touch mine, I woke, startling suddenly from the dream. I could still feel the touch of licking, biting flames on my flesh, and my hands searched in vain for my wife in the dark. As I realized that it had only been a dream, that it simply was only a cruel twist of my imagination that she had lived, I closed my eyes and died again in my heart. It took me a little bit to come to terms with the emptiness that resided in my soul, the dark sense of hopelessness that hung over me. It portrayed a stark contrast between the purity that I had felt in her; it hurt more, having seen what life could have been, and then being torn back.

The pain has not released me, though. It is the only thing besides emptiness that I feel; the only other emotion there is in my heart. I cannot even cling to my anger this morning, cannot even assemble the dark glory of rising on wings of power. I am blind, lost, stumbling in the black night even as I appear to be solid and unmoving.

My second-in-command, an officer named Nilar, shifts quietly behind me, the only sign of his unease. It will not be a good day for anyone.

There is a slight commotion on the corridor leading to where I am standing. I turn, my agony still weighing me down, but I move past it. It is what I have learned to do, a necessary thing that shows no mercy.

Two Stormtroopers come up with something bound in-between them, a figure that I recognize as a female human underneath the roughly-woven, coarse dress she is wearing. There is a sack over her head, and she twists wildly in fear. Her arms are securely held in place by my loyal underlings.

One of them says in a monotone voice, "Lord Vader, we have uncovered a traitor. She was posing as a merchant but was buying supplies for…"

But by this point I am no longer listening. There is a vague stirring in the Force, something small that seems to call out to me. It is a small whisper, the type of which I have not heard for what seems to be an eternity, a presence I know somehow…

I lean forward, and the man stops in fear and surprise. I snatch the bag from her head, and lean back immediately, frightened and awed at what I see.

It is Padmé, my mind screams. Soft curls tumble out and fair features greet me. The Force is ablaze with sudden life and light, and I shrink back from it, not wanting to feel, not wanting to hope. Her eyes are the distinctive color of brown I remember Padmé having, and they burn with more hate in them then I ever saw my wife possessing. The hate is directed towards me, and as in my dream, I burn with it, my very soul crying out in torment once again.

I mouth her name, not daring to speak it and wake my fears and my hopes, not daring to even dream that it might be her. I reach out towards her in the Force, feeling almost like a small child afraid to touch light so radiant it burns. There are no thoughts in my mind, no wonderings at how this is even possible, for it does not matter. Nothing matters; not the astonished glances of the officers assigned to me, nothing.

She turns towards me, and everything I saw suddenly is less then it was as I realize it was a cruel illusion. Her features are younger then my wife's, too young. Her eyes are not the color of brown I had imagined them to be, and her features are too sharp to be the ones of my wife. My hope plummets, casting a shadow in me once again that seems to almost overwhelm my senses as I am again immersed in darkness.

"Ryoo," she says in a pert, educated Naboo accent that does nothing to assuage the numbness within me. It should be Padmé that is speaking right now, I think in a daze. It should be her soft, melodious tones… not the ones of this stranger, this person who would dare to impersonate my wife, dare allow me to hope… "My name is Ryoo Nabierre."