I Have Passed by the Watchman
I have passed by the
watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
--- Acquainted with the Night, by Robert Frost.
I stare at the building,
stilled by own damned indecision. I somehow suspected the NRI to look more
intimidating, more like the powerful organization of a real government than it
was. Of course, this was only the official headquarters on Coruscant, and I
could understand why they would choose something so – nondescript. It was the
intelligence community's way, regardless that the opponent always knew that,
at least. It's amazing how little prejudices and private judgments can be
carried through life despite experiences clearly shattering those illusions.
I should know.
I watch people enter and leave; they are aware of my presence by now, the unusual fact of it. They are no doubt running my face through their files, expecting to find nothing. They might find something; I can't be sure. That uncertainty means I really should act, before they choose to act. This indecision on my part is really very foolish on more than one level. Entering that building immediately gives me the upper hand. I become valuable, a guest.
If I enter the other way – well, I definitely won't be a guest. The New Republic insists it doesn't sanction torture, but the information I possess may be valuable enough for that.
I take a deep breath and stand up. Then I walk over to the entrance; my hesitation is barely noticeable to myself. The clear doors open for me, and I step in. The front office is clear, white, clean, presenting a pure front. I feel positively filthy stepping in, so I guess the intended psychological effect is working.
I walk to the front office, where a pleasant Mon Calamari waits. I'm somewhat surprised, not that she's not human, but Mon Calamari aren't known for their intelligence work. I smile at her, and she says, "How may I help you?"
"I wish to defect," I tell her. "I work – worked – in Imperial Intelligence as a case supervisor."
I've surprised her; I doubt they get many walk-ins. "Please wait one moment," she says, no doubt checking to see if I'm playing a prank, and turns away to look at a screen. It literally is a moment before she gets up and leads me to a lift, giving me assurances of my safety the whole way. I nod, but otherwise don't bother responding. I'm fairly certain I'm safe here, at least for the moment. When the Empire discovers my defection, that will be another matter, but for now they still believe in my loyalty – and the excuse for my absence.
She settles me in a comfortable room. Again, white and clean. Nice psychological effect, I want to mutter, knowing they'll pick that up, but it's a useless bit of a spite to do that, so I don't. The couch is very comfortable, and I lean my elbows on the table. She leaves, and I know I won't see her again. The NRI will probably place me somewhere out of the way where the Empire won't think to look for me.
A woman enters after less than a minute; quick, these people. Also unwilling to give up the advantage they have. At the moment, fears and the harsh reality of what I was doing hadn't had time to settle in, and they knew that. They wanted me in deep before I started getting second thoughts. I had to admire their professionalism. The Rebellion hadn't skimped on intelligence training. I knew that well enough as their enemy, but it was interesting to see it beyond reports, half decrypted conversations and years old data that may or may not still be relevant.
She's young. Human. Another calculated decision, though a slightly risky one. Female equals non-threatening to most Imperials. Human means on your level. Of course, I could be a misogynist.
Her brown eyes are calm as she regards me. She waits to speak, sitting opposite me in the other couch, across the table. I'm surprised at her silence.
I wait, my body language as calm as I can make it. I don't look that great, wearing worn, ill-fitting clothing and that slight filthiness that spoke of a long day at work.
"Why did you decide to defect?" she asks.
Surprised again; am I this incompetent? Shouldn't she be asking what I have to offer? "That's not important," I say.
She cocks her head. "Yes, it is. Very important."
Silly girl. "I can offer –"
"Not interested," she interrupted.
I raised an eyebrow, and made to rise.
She didn't stop me, but she did speak. "The information you give us is significantly decreased unless we know the reason for your defection," she says calmly. "We know who you are, Myls Delba. Your file does not indicate you would defect."
"And your file is that complete, is it?" I ask, sitting down again, amused now.
She just smiles. "Humor us."
Us. We. Presenting a powerful front, are we? "The Empire is not going to win this war," I tell her matter-of-factly. "I'm in a position to see beyond the propaganda. I'm not a stupid man. It calculates that I should defect, should I wish to save my life."
She nods. "I see." She pauses, then says, "My name is Glena."
I memorize that out of habit; code names of the same person are often similar for obvious reasons of keeping track.
She pulls a datapad out of nowhere, and sets it in front of me. "Write down everything you can think of in your life, beginning with your recruitment, or anything else if relevant. That will be the beginning of your debriefing."
I take the empty datapad, feeling suddenly daunted. I stare at it for a moment.
"I can get you some water, if you wish," she offers gently.
I almost shake my head, then abort the motion and nod. I see her rise of the out corner of my eye, my focus still mostly on the datapad. She disappears out of line of vision, but I can still hear her; then she returns and places a glass of water on the small table between the couches. I touch it, but don't take any.
After a moment, Glena sits beside me on the couch. Startled, I look at her, and feel suspicion rise. What is going on?
"Besides my Intelligence station," Glena begins, "I also work as counselor. I got into that first, then I started treating Intelligence officers. The rest, I suppose, happened pretty naturally. I have a talent for this, in an odd way, and I've always read people well." She pauses. "You're safe here. The Empire believes us to be a group of idealists, and in many ways, that is what we are. I do not think that a bad thing. Tell me, Myls, why you defected," she finishes quietly.
Her words feel unmistakably honest, but that means nothing. But they will find out anyway, won't they? In the life I have lived they will find Imperial secrets, and every secret of mine will be unearthed regardless.
"Myls," she says gently, "Imperials do not often defect because they feel the Empire is losing this war; indoctrination is usually too strong for that. You know that."
"I fell in love with a non-human," I say bluntly, and I'm not sure who I'm saying it to. And the words sting me as I say them, because I say non-human. I shake my head at myself, and Glena says nothing. "That's all," I tell her, meeting those calm brown eyes. "That's enough."
"Is she well?" Glena asks.
"She's dead," I reply.
"I'm sorry," Glena says, and I see pain in her eyes – not sympathy. Like she's feeling what I'm feeling, too.
I look away, and I suddenly know my answer isn't enough. Damn it, it never was. "I always passed by them. The aliens. I didn't need to explain myself, what I did, what the Empire did and why I supported it. I was loyal, the cause was right, the work was good. But . . . I didn't want to explain, either," I admit. "And you know, they never really asked. They saw enough, when we wouldn't meet their eyes."
Glena gently touches my shoulder, which I shrug off. I glare at her, and she seems to back off from being overly sympathetic.
I don't look away. "She was pretty, I was drunk, and it was supposed to end there. But it didn't, as I'm sure you've guessed. She died in some damn fool riot on Ied VI. I doubt she was a protestor; not the type."
"And you defected because . . . ?" Glena says, leading me on. An obvious thing to get me to explain myself more, my reasons for defection, which would influence the trustworthiness of my information. It's all fake. But I might as well get this over with. It's better than the Empire.
"Because it was all a lie," I burst out, and damn appearances. "About them being lesser than us. All those opportunities I had to stop it, to lessen it, and I never did. Not once. I didn't have a strormtrooper's devotion, I never did. And then – what? What? I couldn't say. I couldn't leave and do nothing. I saw what was right to do. How could I pass by again?" I feel tears in my eyes, painful and stinging. "Damn it all," I finish. "Damn it."
"You're doing the right thing," Glena says.
I hope so. I snatch the datapad. I'm not passing by. There's that much, at least. I'm a bit of cynic about how much good the NRI does, or how much good the New Republic as a whole will do, but it's better than nothing. Better than unrepentant evil. Better than me.
I start to write, beginning with my recruiter's name, ignoring Glena. I guess I’m a defector now. I know what the Republic will do with me; immunity, a simple life. I don't have to ask Glena, and that's why she didn't offer. Some defectors – they really join the Republic. Like that Celchu, and others. Han Solo, even, to some degree.
My information and knowledge of Imperial tactics will be priceless to them. They'll probably spend decades unraveling it all, able to put together pieces I never could, with other defectors, other spies, unencrypted transmissions.
It's better than nothing.
But less than what Althena deserved.