Up from page 48! O_O As always, thank you for taking the time to look at the this-- I'm in your debt! ^_^

I was thinking about Kumino and how the cloners might figure in with the Emperor when this came to me. It's a little weird, but hopefully tha won't scare you away. I really do think-- if Padme dies-- Vader would be desperate to get her back.

As a note: "-ko" is a Japanese suffix that means little. Usually applied as part of a name-- "michiko"="little stranger", "Usako"="little rabbit", ex. It can also be applied as a a lovers term-- "chidori"="chidoko", or "my little". Kumino sounds to me like a Japanese name, so I thought I'd use this. ^_~

-Meredith

[to the tune of "Love Me Tender"]

Send me feedback,

Send it true,

And I'll adore you,

If you do.

"Don't save me, don't lose me, don't wake me now

You let me, you release me, let me drown, take me down"

-"Deep As You Go", The October Project; "Falling Farther In."

==========================

Deep As You Go:

The Education of Padmeko

by Meredith Bronwen Mallory

mallorys-girl@cinci.rr.com

http://www.demando.net

==========================

She's having that dream again, where her body is laying still like ivory, but she can hear voices all around and she is painfully aware. When the voices first come, after Taun We lays her down in the little egg shaped cradle, they're nice; she likes to listen to their strange accents and try to memorize what they say. She never remembers what they've said when she wakes up. Now, however, she is deep-dreaming, now she is in His dream, and she can feel him getting closer. He resents her being here, but at the same time he wants her to see, and she cries out as if glass has been wedged into her joints because if only he would love her, it would be alright.

That's a lie, and she knows it.

He knows it, too, and in the dream he tells her love never saved anybody, least of all him.

So now it's a different time, it's a memory, but in his mind, the past is the thing he can touch. The boarders of his world are thick black armor, and the walls are so high she'll never be able to climb over them. It's her face he sees when he sleeps at night-- the face she has stolen, and she feels like she's running down endless gray corridors, looking for the answer to the question he asks.

Then she wakes, because the water clock is chiming and Taun We says it's time to get up.

-----

Her name is Padmeko, she is nine years old and she has never left the white-washed maze of Kumino's cloning factory. Her face is pale, and in her opal eyes one can see a storm mirroring the one that perpetually rages outside her home. Now she's standing on a small stool, arms out like a mechanized china doll as Taun We dresses her. First the lacy underthings, a challenge for the alien woman's long, indigo fingers; then a pink gold dress that buttons modestly all the way up to her pale, slender throat. Her hair is brushed, pulled away from her face with two petrified shells, and Taun We lifts it to tie the pinafore about her waist. Padmeko feels none of this, she is a doll with no heart (he told her that, and she knew it was true-- he made it true), and she stares fixedly at the mirror with eyes you should never, ever see set into a child's face.

"There now," Taun We's voice is soft, like the way currents buried under the brutal waves. The Kumian stands to her full high, fingers lacing about those of her charge like a fine bird's cage. Padmeko follows docilely, pausing only to lift her heavy, glass doll from the dresser. Holding it to her chest protectively, she looks just like a little girl, really-- at least she should, but there is something vaguely threatening about her, the kind of look you see in the eyes of an animal beaten so often it expects it as due coarse.

Now they're walking along the high suspended corridors, over looking the babies growing in their thick plastic tubes and the children at their learning terminals, with the bright light of the computer-screens playing over their identical bronze faces. Sometimes, Padmeko is permitted to use a terminal, and her young mind devours the courses on politics and science and maths. The boy, they are all the same boy, no matter how many of them there are, looks at her strangely from his thousand pairs of eyes, for she is the only human who looks different than he. She watches him, too, wondering how many of them there are, and how the real one knows he's just that-- not a fake.

"I'm a fake, too," she says one day; her beautiful face raised to gaze at one of the older men. In his dark eyes, she can see herself and her doll; a reflection-- and she remembers her face in the ebony of his mask, and how seeing herself there made it so she couldn't be afraid of him.

"Uh," grunts the male. He doesn't know how to respond to this; it is not an order, and he is not programed to think.

"I'm not the real thing, and you're not the real thing," she persists, eager to confess the truth. For a long while, she thought she was the only one, the real thing. He showed her otherwise.

"Yeah," says the replication before her, lacing his shoe, and then Taun We comes, and tells her not to dwell on the process of cloning. Taun We does not understand; once, He loved Padmeko, once he carried her in his big, cold black arms and gave her all sorts of wonderful presents, like her doll. Once he told her she was the prettiest girl in the world.

But she's not the painting, she's just the print-- no texture.

====

In the wide, high-ceiling cafeteria, Padmeko is eating her second meal of the day. The weather on Kumino makes day and night immaterial, and anyway she just sleeps when they tell her to. She doesn't really understand day and night, and doesn't understand why He shows her pictures in her mind of two suns wavering in their own heat over the sand, or a single pale moon on a lake in the mountains. Her tiny frame is perched on an empty bench, she watches the men eat with disinterest and a little horror. They all hold their spoons the same way, they all chew in the same rhythm. Holding her cheek in her hand, she lifts the semi-solid red paste from her plate, holding it between her thumb and forefinger. Slowly, Padmeko makes it into a heart, the child's shape, sloppy and imperfect. Her doll sits spread-eagle on the table, dead blue eyes staring off endlessly, and Padmeko tips the toy back, placing the heart on a spoon, lifting the silver cradle to the doll's glass lips.

"This is my heart," she whispers, her voice like a wraith that has screamed against her death until she has no voice. Her sorrow falls on china-deaf ears, and she forces the spoon against the dolls lips. Harder. "This is my heart, devour it. Tell me how it tastes." Harder, as if the spoon is sword, and her voice is rising so that all the men look at her, "Eat it!" She demands, "Do what I tell you!"

Her hands are cut and bleeding; she is crying in Tau We's arms, and latter when they ask her why, she says she was only doing to the doll what He is doing to her.

=====

She's been bathed in water that smells like roses, sweet and heady; her hair is set in little curls tumbling from golden bows, and her nice dress has no apron. Taun We has worked over her for hours, because He is coming, and though he may hate her, he always desires for her to look beautiful. The doll is once more cradled in her arms, though no longer has a face-- just smooth china, and she likes in better that way.

Now, down the long white hall like a woman approaching the chopping block. She walks alone, high-buttoned boots echoing until it sounds as if she is an army. Looking back, just once, she sees Taun We, and takes a breath, remembering when she used to fly down this hallway, eager to see him because he was eager to see her.

At the door, she raises her small hand to press the palm against the computer screen, and it allows her to pass, closing swiftly. The high oxygen makes her giddy, like when she listens to the voices in her dreams. One step down, two steps, with her eyes always on him. He is watching her too, and at his voice she stops like clockwork. There's just a little pleasure in his eyes; he likes that she is his little wind-up doll.

"Lord Vader," she curtsies, just like she's been taught.

"Are you an angel?" his voice is the sound of leaves brushing over a tombstone. This the awful question, because if he hadn't asked it, he would still love her. His eyes are so blue, so strange set into the roped scars on his head.

"I don't know," she says, and as soon as her voice sounds, she knows it is the wrong answer. The first time he asked, when she was five, she said she was whatever he wanted her to be. Her left arm had never mended right.

"It's disgusting for you to look like her," he says, and she sees his hand flex out of the corner of her eyes. It's like magic, the way the machines replace the mask, and his voice booms once more. Her mouth is a little round 'o', and though the doll is pressing painfully into her chest, she just can't get her arms to let go. "Genetics, DNA," he continues, saying the words like poison, "experience makes a person. You have her body, but not her soul. I don't even think you have a soul."

Padmeko sits, because the little knives in her body make it impossible to stand. "If someday, I answer the question right," she asks, "will you forget about the other times and love me again?"

He doesn't answer, and she can hear him thinking that he would so desperately like to. It might be wishful thinking.

"If she was the only one for you," Padmeko starts again, "then where's the person only for me?"

His reply is simple, but he keeps saying it, as if saying it will make it true. As if saying it will redeem him for taking the pieces of his beloved and trying to make her live again. "You're not a person."

And that is not the right answer, either.