Chapter 5: The Collection
The last of the staff had left for the evening and Jarlina nodded off from time to time in her work. She methodically worked to clean the last of the scoring from the weapon's surface using a laser resurfacing device. It was nearly midnight as she lovingly polished its surface and pondered what to do with the artifact. It was far too dangerous to be placed in the Coruscant museum- surely the Empire would view it as blasphemous to place it on public display. She couldn't bear to see it placed in a temperature controlled prison where schoolchildren would come to leave their slimy handprints. If she left it here, it would go back into the infinite rows of shelves stored among the relics of fallen civilizations and forgotten. No. She knew what to do. Carefully, she opened her desk drawer and removed an ornate paperweight given to her by an amorous colleague and wrapped it in the brown cloth that once held the lightsaber. She wrapped the lightsaber in a sheet of insulating foam and placed it in the bottom of her oversized bag. Her heart raced as she slid the paperweight into the storage bin and returned it to the high shelf on which it would gather dust for the next hundred years. Maybe her successor would find it and speculate on its function. Somehow, she didn't think so. She left the building at a rapid pace although the real danger was over. To the Coruscant natives, she was only a harmless old woman. Still, the weight of her bag seemed to increase on the way to her mid-level apartment.
The weapon saw greed in the hands of a Collector.
Anric Almaas stares at his beautiful wife as she sleeps, the moonlight illuminating her skin smooth as ivory. He leaves her and descends the jeweled staircase to sit on the benches surrounding the fountain bubbling musically in his arboretum. Surrounding the fountain are crowns and chalices and various ceremonial vessels. Paintings created by artists now long dead are silent specters on the walls. A statue gallery fills the main hall—her gallery really. His private study is filled with ancient weapons-befitting a former Imperial Admiral. He paces the study moving from the more modern Clone-War era blasters to the ancient spears fashioned of archaic metal alloys and wood. He catches his reflection in the display case—the strong, square jaw, black hair dusted with silver at the temples, and dark intelligent eyes. He knew why his wife commissioned a local sculptor to create a statue in his likeness. At fifty, he is still magnificent.
Almaas is collector of things and people.
He paces the study like it was the bridge of a Destroyer, arms clasped behind his back and head up. In the center of the room amidst the ancient volumes of history and tiresome philosophy tomes is his prized acquisition. The lightsaber rests on a throne of crimson velvet, sheathed and silent. He rests a hand atop the display case and contemplates the weapon's elegance. Possession of such an item would result in court-martial or death, but to a man like Almaas, that added to the thrill. He remembered the day he seized the weapon from an old Devaronian. The fool actually expected to be paid! He led him into his study and asked him innocently enough to examine a curved blade ironically used in Devaronian sacrifice rituals. The fool, Strockma, made the fatal mistake of handing him the weapon before receiving payment. It was so easy to stab the pitiful creature through the heart. He'd had to call in quite a few favors to have the body disposed of before his wife returned from her party.
His reflection is joined by another image in the glass. He turns to see his wife facing him, her dark eyes heavy with sleep. He brushes her deep auburn hair from her shoulders and kisses her. "There was talk at the party last night. They say the Rebellion is gaining ground—that the war might come to Coruscant."
"Don't let the loose tongues of traitors poison your mind, Elianna. Why don't you go into your arboretum and I'll have Marcus fetch you some tea."
"I don't want to sit. I'm worried, Anric. What if you're called back into service?"
"Then I will go and fight, my love."
"What if you die?"
He rests his hands on her shoulders. "I won't."
He enters a massive, cold edifice as pouring rain drenches Coruscant—the worst weather in years. He scans a badge and enters a room where a man—barely more than a teenager really is strapped into a chair. He is joined by a physician, a gaunt, tall man who long ago ceased to be a healer. "Shall I administer the drugs yet?" The doctor's voice is as dispassionate as a medical droid's. Almaas smiles in response. "Not yet. I want to have a talk with him first."
"Alright, but I strongly advise administering the drugs before the interrogation."
Almaas slides a chair loudly toward the prisoner and sits facing him. "The youth's jaw is set in defiance, but his eyes are wide in fear.
"Tell me have you ever been associated with or do you have any knowledge of the Rebel called Luke Skywalker?"
He places a gloved hand emphatically on the prisoner's shoulder and slaps his cheek lightly. "I want to make your life easy. Surely you can see that. Just tell me."
"I don't know him." The prisoner spits at Almaas.
He stands and hits the prisoner several times in the face. The prisoner's nose is bloody.
"I'm going to ask again. Where is Luke Skywalker? Tell me and you might live."
"I don't know!" The prisoner shouted.
"I have video surveillance of you evacuating the Rebel base at Hoth. I know you know something!"
Almaas reaches into a desk and retrieves a series of objects resembling surgical instruments and the prisoner's eyes grow wide in terror. The doctor turns away as Almaas raises the first…
Almaas exits the detention center hours later humming his favorite strains of Alderaanian opera. Among his possessions are some of the last surviving recordings. He passes the deplorable lower levels where he was born walking briskly until he reaches the upper level apartment. His wife sits on the dais in the arboretum looking through its glass ceiling at the stars. She watches the battles raging in the distance, faint bursts of orange and red. She draws her red shawl tighter across her shoulders.
He bends to kiss her forehead but she pulls away.
"I want to leave."
"We'll take a vacation—somewhere sunny and warm."
"No. I'm going home," she insists.
"Let's talk. I'll have my servant fix you some tea," he pleads.
She stands up. "Don't bother. I finally had Marcus run an analysis of the ingredients in that tea. I know all about its sedative properties."
He backs away. "Please. Let me explain. I only did it to help you."
She walks away. "My bags are packed and I've arranged for safe passage."
"Don't leave—of all my treasures—you are the greatest one."
From his belt, he pulls a blaster while her back is turned and aims. For the first time, his hand shakes.
Suddenly, he feels a blaster digging into his back and before he can move, a rough arm pins his throat. The sound of voices fills the room. His weapon falls to the floor and he struggles against the man. Another stands before him. His wife turns to watch- a sad, strange smile on her lips. "There's only one problem—I was never yours!"
Another stands before him—he recognizes him from Intel files as a Rebel commander. "She started working for us six months ago—It seems she got tired of being part of your collection."
"Traitor!" Almaas gasps. Rivulets of sweat pour down his face.
"You've got so many pretty things," one of the men commented.
"They're priceless. What would scum like you know about it."
"We have to take him back to headquarters, "one of the men states.
"He killed my little brother in one of his…interrogations!" The man in front of him growls.
They look at his wife. Almaas sees no help in her eye. "Do what you want with him."
"What about his collection?" The Rebel commander asks.
"Burn it to the ground if you like but make him watch," the woman replies.
"No—please!" Almaas begs for the first time in his life.
They drag him outside as charges are set by others inside. When the last one leaves, an explosion rocks the house and flames spurt from the windows. Almaas sinks to his knees defeated and the rebels haul him to his feet. In a vicious moment, he rises and evades his captors. They pursue him, but he runs into the inferno. "We have to go in and get him!" one the leader shouts. "No—he's dead anyway!" answers Elianna.
Hours later, a forensics team determines the source of the fire. Salvage teams determine that nothing can be saved. The bodies of Almaas and his wife are not recovered, but the team is unconcerned. A report is filed stating that their bodies were destroyed in the fire.
Far below in the oppressive gloom and garish neon of Coruscant's red light district, a beggar bound in tattered robes mumbles to himself and rubs bandaged hands together outside the Outlander Club. He reaches into a pocket and retrieves an object roughly the size of his palm and wrapped in coarse cloth. He holds it tightly for it is the last scrap of his glory. His other hand darts into his pocket withdrawing a flagon of Corellian ale. He guzzles the liquid, ignoring the fire in his throat. He leans against the club's wall, eyeing the scantily clad hedonists with disdain. He wanders the city like this for months and eventually disappears to become another ghost story told in the lowest levels of Coruscant.
Jarlina awoke to a deafening clamor outside her apartment. She reached under her pillow feeling relief when her hand touched the cool metal of the lightsaber. She awoke and dressed for work knowing what she had to do. As much as she longed to keep the weapon, somehow she knew that keeping it could only bring her trouble. Her vidscreen chimed. Her body tensed. It was too late. She'd been seen on the security footage and she was going to disappear into the Detention center. She concealed the lightsaber in her bag and flicked the com on. The face of her superior appeared his broad face grey and drawn. "Jarlina- don't come to work today. The impossible has happened."
Her heart quickened in fear. She managed to ask, "What happened, Matchik?"
His voice caught in his throat. "Citizens are rioting in the street. We can't hold them off forever!" She exhaled in a silent expression of relief. "I don't understand.."
"Jarlina…The Emperor is dead! He died on board the Death Star along with Vader and all the commanding admirals!"
She fell back into a padded chair and rubbed her temples. "What about the Grand Moffs and the Regional Governors?"
"The ones that weren't taken prisoners are in hiding! I've taken the liberty of purging all employment records so you won't be tracked."
"You've got to get out of there now," Jarlina replied.
"It's just Rael and I now. When the Rebels come, we won't fight them. You were a good employee. Long live the Empire."
The screen flashed and went dark leaving Jarlina alone with the lightsaber.
After a hiatus, I am debating continuing this with more vignettes if there is still interest. I am in the process of rewriting and editing all chapters and taking into account the very helpful suggestions of reviewers (finally).