The walls of Maria Gracia Planaâ€™s prison had long since fallen, the building having crumbled along with the Empire that constructed it. The planetâ€™s wealth and populace have gone, leaving it boundless and bare, a relic of times long past. Maria Gracia Planaâ€™s guards have left her, after she broke the leg of the one who tried to rape her and the skull of the one who was going to watch. The walls were gone but she remained, writing letters to the outside worlds.
But they were no longer letters, not since the Blight. They were now nothing more than a series of apologies. Apologies to her people, who believed in her and her revolution. Apologies to her revolution, for not being strong enough to defend its ideals. Apologies to the dead.
In an open prison, Maria Gracia Plana wrote apologies those lost in the war that she started and the Blight that followed and hoped it would ease their weight off her shoulders.
She was engaged in this activity when the spaceman arrived. His Imperial uniform was disheveled and torn, but his bearing and movements betrayed a life spent in space, a life used to conserving everything.
â€œMaria Gracia Plana,â€ he said. â€œStill here?â€
â€œThere is a war on. I am a prisoner of war.â€ Maria did not look up from her tablet; she had apologies to write.
â€œWarâ€™s over. You won.â€
â€œI did not! I never wanted the Blight. I never asked for it. If I wasnâ€™t here, it would never have been used! Mass murder was never what I wanted.â€
â€œKnow. Read your letters.â€
â€œYou read myâ€¦â€ Maria managed to tear her eyes away from her tablet. â€œWho are you?â€
â€œNadir Faruqi. Captain, Galactic Imperial Fleet. Only, Empire done gone. Just Captain, â€˜spose.â€
â€œAnd you, no doubt a romantic, have come to rescue me, is that right? Well, I am dreadfully sorry, Captain Faruqi, but I have no desire to be saved.â€ Maria returned her attention to her tablet, and the apologies it contained. The spaceman merely stood stock still, another rock amid the ruins of Mariaâ€™s prison.
â€œNot here to save you. Here to save worlds. Empire done gone. Chaos, now. Blight done that. But so did you. So did I.â€ The spaceman touched the grip of the blaster that was strapped to his hip. He shifted his weight as he did so, as if the weapon had suddenly grown heavier.
â€œYouâ€™re here to remind me that Iâ€™ve failed, is that it? I donâ€™t need you to tell me that! I thought I was being a martyr when I was arrested. I didnâ€™t know then that martyrs are dead, and the dead canâ€™t speak. So when the people you trusted decide to release a devastatingly lethal on the enemy, no one will hear you cry â€˜no.â€™â€
â€œThatâ€™s gone. Canâ€™t change, so let go. Worlds need you.â€
â€œI am dead! Donâ€™t you understand? I am dead! No one will hear me except the dead, and all I can do is apologize to them! Thatâ€™s all I can do! I am dead! Can you hear me? I AM DEAâ€”â€
The spaceman placed his hand over Mariaâ€™s mouth. It was not an act of violence or anger. Merely frustration, which was echoed in his eyes, black as space itself.
â€œNot dead. The dead done gone. Youâ€™re here. Worlds need you. Was an Imperial Captain. Fought and killed for Empire. But never believed in. Saw much Empire as Captain. Nothing to believe in. Until you. You had a better way. Empire mighty, but not in your eyes. Your passionâ€¦your grace. Believed in that. Worldsâ€¦Iâ€¦need you to be worth your name.â€
The spaceman withdrew his had from Mariaâ€™s mouth, and held it in front of her, ready to lift her up out of the dust.
The walls of Maria Gracia Planaâ€™s prison had long since fallen, the building having crumbled along with the Empire that constructed it. The planetâ€™s wealth and populace have gone, leaving it boundless and bare, a relic of times long past. All that remains are her apologies, and the dead.