The clearly feminine whisper is clipped and professional, sharply restrained, yet laced with indistinct obscurity, drifting uncertainly through the stale air of the cloning facility before collapsing back into dead silence.
My eyelids peel back slowly, my vision dull and watery, clouded with the last remnants of sleep. I feel my lungs expanding and contracting of their own accord, drawing in oxygen through the various white tubes connected to the vat which imprisons me. I breathe hard without opening my mouth or inhaling through my nose: the machines have already detected the increase in the speed of my heart rate, and they're adjusting accordingly. Oxygen pumps automatically through my bloodstream.
The hollow echoes of the woman's voice lurch down the long corridor of cloning vats and tumble down the hallway.
Experimentally, I twitch my fingers – out and in, out and in. I pinch myself on the wrist. It hurts, but I'm suspended in bacta, and the tiny cut heals almost immediately. Regardless, the sharp pinprick of pain must mean I'm awake.
I haven't decided yet whether or not that's a good thing.
The panicked woman's voice rises to a near-shout. "Galen, can you hear me?"
Some stifled urge to answer her rises up in my chest. I involuntarily open my mute mouth to form words, my lips parting, a syllable beginning to emerge, but the sound is suffocated by the blue liquid all around me. Bacta scalds my open mouth raw, and I convulse, a stream of strangled bubbles pushing out of my chest. Hollow gasps emerge hoarsely from my numb throat. I raise my hands, clenching them into fists, and pound the glass with my pale knuckles until the bones sting dully with pain.
The voice is urgent now, fear poisoning the question with tremulous doubt.
I beat the bacta with my arms, swimming up to the ceiling of my cylindrical prison. Half-insane now, craving some unseen and unknown memory, I cut through the liquid seamlessly, my heart banging against my ribcage. I bash my skull blindly against the transparisteel. Pain shoots across my vision, a flash of white light, and my answering howl of animal rage is swallowed whole by the liquid.
"Galen," the woman cries, her voice bordering on a shriek now. "Please," she pleads. Her voice breaks, and I can hear it all welling up to the surface now, the bitter anguish of a torn heart.
"Please, Galen, listen to me. You have to listen to me..."
I feel the weight of gravity suck me angrily down to collide with the floor of my prison. Torrents of bubbles blind my eyes, my vision rippling indistinctly.
"Galen, they're lying to you. They're all lying to you. They want to hurt you; they tried to hurt me... You can't listen to them, Galen. You have to get away..."
Galen? The name echoes and sings with repercussions of a life forgotten. Galen...
I'm not Galen.
Who am I?
I'm a number. Subject 1157. Clone project. Grown in a vat. Born to kill. Created to do my Master's bidding –
"Galen, it's all lies!" the woman's voice distantly exclaims, desperation threatening to overwhelm her. "Come back to yourself. Come back to me, back to us. I love you – don't let them do this! Don't let me lose you, Galen!"
Galen. Galen Marek...
I'm not Galen.
But I remember –
I remember Galen.
I remember feeling Galen Marek die.
I remember the searing agony of forked violet thunderbolts, burning deep into flesh and muscle and bone. I remember the blast of infinite Force energy ripped loose by a finite collision of passion and rage. I remember the shock of watching the ground fall away beneath me, my blazing, radiant body catapulting back like a shooting star, only to soar like a fallen meteor into an impenetrable wall of durasteel and duranium and metal –
A door hissing open, the cloaked form of the Emperor casually sauntering through... A voice that is not a voice, the dead, feverish growl of a machine – I did not summon him... A sword of scarlet fire, burning agonizingly through the layers of my training gear, my flesh, my muscles, my ribs, my lungs... Wisps of clean grey smoke curling up from my seared chest, smelling faintly of overcooked meat... Cold, metal fingers gripping my neck, supporting me against a cold, metal chest... Darkness and weight, coupled; my heart turns to stone, and I crumple, silent and shattered...
Answer me, mindless fate!
Who am I, I alone, I unbound, I unchained – without my Master?
That is the name that the spirit of my fallen father whispered, a rueful murmur piercing through the fragments of bleeding memories.
And I feel it all now: the person I was meant to be, the person Vader tried to make me, the person I could have been, the person my allies believed I was, the person I thought I was, the person she believed I could be, the person I became –
And I'm screaming underwater, but I can't make a sound; I'm banging the transparisteel with shrieking anger in every blow, but it makes no difference; my heart clenches like a fist, and I can't breathe. I want to drown these images, these voices, these endless portraits of conflicting identities, never me... never me...
I'm not me.
I'm not Galen!
"Galen?" the woman calls, as if from miles and miles away. "Galen...?"
And I know who the woman is.
And I'm out on a landing ramp, the turbulence from the Rogue Shadow's engine whipping my frayed robe in a cleansing whirlwind, Juno's hands suddenly clutching me with urgent passion, her lips moving with mine, my lips moving against them, my fingers moving up to gently press against her soft hair, her cool breath on my face...
And then I'm falling...
Galen, I correct myself. Galen kissed her. Galen loved her. Galen fell away into icy space, torn away from her. But as for me –
I'm not Galen.
I'm not anyone.
I close my burning eyes, but darkness is a shroud over my soul, and I toss and turn in emptiness.
Then I open my eyes.
My wrists sting. The only light comes in pale, filtered shafts that fall unevenly through the bars hanging above at the rim of my prison, but even in the poor lighting, I can see I'm bleeding. Or rather, was bleeding. Crimson streams have dried on my manacles, continuing down the links of the chains that secure me to the durasteel floor of my isolation chamber on Kamino.
After a second, I realize that my jaw is on fire, too. I have to deliberately unclench my teeth, and it hurts like someone is ripping my mouth apart.
Why do I always hear a woman's voice when I try to sleep?
A/N: This entire chapter sprung from a single Starkiller quote in TFU:II. "I hear... a woman's voice when I try to sleep..."
Please review, but no flames.
May the Force be with you!