Irtar left in a hurry, and Ahnk felt himself collapsing back into the dream world again. He sat back in his chair, and he saw his constant imagined companion stepping back to his side.
“Inoculations…” Ahnk said, considering.
Montague smiled. “He’s a clever boy,” she said, placing her hands on Ahnk’s thighs and leaning over his pale form. “Do you think he’s onto something?’
Ahnk snarled. Had to think.
Reached down deep inside.
Tracing strands of chemicals, from the heart through the beating veins… could take forever.
Focus. Focus on what he knew.
“Doctor,” Ahnk said, aloud. Montague turned to him with curiosity. “Describe my symptoms.”
“Advanced renal failure, and associated blood toxicity,” she said, adding “which has led to malnourishment and dehydration as your body can no longer process incoming matter in its present condition.”
“Renal failure,” Ahnk repeated. Focusing on what he knew…
He saw it like an asteroid of pure stygium; small craft, dancing back and forth, attacking it and drilling into it, taking pieces away, back to where they came from, but never stopping, always dancing, always attacking…
It was Pancea. It was a bad batch of Pancea. It was attacking his digestive organs for the bacteria they contained. Fighting off the bacteria there as if it were an infection. Killing the organ was a side effect. Not factored into the programming.
Ahnk pushed himself up out of his seat. He slipped on the floor, dropping to a knee. Montague grabbed him by the arm but he shrugged her off, stubborn. He moved until he was at the end of the bed, throwing legs up and sitting on the very edge.
“I need you,” he said.
She set herself down on the bed as well, sitting down behind him. “What do you need me to do?”
“I need to focus,” Ahnk said. “I need to clear my mind; I need to wash away the pain. I want you… I want you to take the pain away.”
She sighed, softly. “I can’t,” she said. “If I use any more morpha, you could die.”
“No,” he said. “I want you to use… your hands. I am going to take off my shirt. I want you to… massage me.”
“Massage you?” she asked, stifling a laugh.
“If that’s not too intimate,” Ahnk said, aiming for irony, “from doctor to patient.”
Her stifling faltered slightly and she did laugh. “Alright, then,” she said, placing her hands against his shoulders. “A medical massage, coming up.”
Her finger tips dug softly into his skin. Ahnk could feel sparks of the pain in his veins jump to those fingers. As she began to press deeper, Ahnk allowed his mind to wander… to empty. To allow the sensation to fade…
Reaching down, feeling around. Finding a small silver machine. Reaching inside, feeling around. The silver machine stopped moving.
”Is it working?”
“Is there anything else I can do?”
From the blackness came a bright, red cloud. Inside the cloud, a dark sphere, and tiny flecks of silver stabbing in and out.
There were too many.
”There are… too many. I can’t… my focus… I can’t focus beyond the pain…”
“Slow down,” Montague offered. “You seem strained. You must be doing something…”
“It will take too long,” Ahnk admitted. “Shutting each down takes so much out of me… I can’t do it, I have to keep stopping.”
“You were doing fine,” Ahnk said. “And… I appreciate you being here. Maybe this is how it has to be. As long as Irtar can get his…”
“No,” Montague said. She dug her nails into Ahnk’s shoulder, drawing a gasp of annoyance and pain from the former Sith. “No, there has to be something more! I’m not just going to let you die. You’re not just going to let you die.”
Maybe that was how it had to be.
“The Jedi preach discipline and control over their emotions, but emotions make us who we are,” Ahnk said, absently.
“Sorry, what did you say?”
Ahnk turned to face her. The face of his confident… the only one he could talk to. The only one who knew the truth. The only one who could hear what he was about to say, and not judge, or condemn. “Maybe there’s a reason it’s you. Maybe there’s a reason it’s not Irtar and his doctor. Maybe this is how it has to be.”
She seemed confused. “You’re not making any sense, Andrew. You need to tell me how I can help you.”
Ahnk turned his back again. “The Jedi preach discipline and control over their emotions, but emotions make us who we are. We must not hide from what we feel, but must allow it to define who we are,” Ahnk offered, finishing the quote. “The words of Exar Kun. Something he told me when I was very young. It was a lesson of pain… not to fight it, but to absorb it. To take it in, and turn the energy of your hurt into energy you can use. It was something I learned a long time ago…”
Montague leaned softly on his back. “If this can save your life, then we can worry about penance later,” she said, understanding why he was reluctant to put this out. “But you need to tell me how this helps you.”
“I need to refocus my mind. I need to stop trying to fight the pain, and instead, to use it to fuel my inner fire,” he said, then turned his head to her. “And I need you to hurt me.”
She blinked. “Hurt you?”
He nodded. “Use your nails. Syringes. Scalpels. Whatever you need. But I need to feel it. I need the pain. I want you to cut me and slash me and stab me. I want to be in agony. It’s the only way I can think of to do what I need to do.”
She stopped. She was a part of him, so her delay could be his own internal debate at how insane his plan sounded. But the look in her eyes seemed to imply that this was her… the essence and idea of her. And this plan pained her as much he needed her to injure him. “You’re sure?” were her only words; she couldn’t ask him to change his plan if it had a chance of saving him.
“Not every problem can be solved by being a good Jedi,” Ahnk repeated his own words. “May Gash Jiren forgive me for the darkness in my soul,” he said, in the event that he wasn’t going to live. Then he turned his head again. “I love you,” he offered her. Whether she was her or himself didn’t matter anymore.
She lowered her head to muffle the sobs against his shoulder. He felt tears running down the soft creases she had made with her massage; if all went according to plan, that would soon dilute with blood.
Suddenly, the world faded away. Only white was left.
For a moment, he thought he had died. But then, he felt it. The throb. The familiar, glorious throb of pain across his spine. His entire body shuddered as his skin and nerves tore in his upper back. Through the grimace of agony, and between screams, Ahnk grinned.
Thank you. I love you. Thank you.
Then he went to work.
In his mind, he saw each organ as a mass of tortured flesh. The Pancea nanites darted into the mass, and the mass quivered and shuddered as pieces of it were torn asunder. Ahnk had used his Jedi healing to slowly repair the organ, but Pancea was remarkably efficient at taking it apart again. He’d been too busy trying to fix the damage to look inside and figure out what was causing it. But that didn’t matter now.
He remembered back. He could almost smell the fresh, wet grass on the forests of Yavin. He’d stood there for hours at a time as Avery launched lightning into his body. He’d endured it all. Never, since that day, had he felt lightning like that. Never had he felt that pain.
Never until now.
His face was a mask of agony and euphoria. He’d solved his medical condition with a prescription of pain and suffering. If only it were so simple for all. But not everyone was Ahnk. Not everyone could endure what he must yet endure.
He placed his fingers on his stomach. It was jaundiced, and splotched with dark red spots from excessive blood loss. But all of that didn’t matter now. This would either work, and he would rapidly heal as any Jedi would. Or it would not, and he would die here. But it could never be said he hadn’t tried.
Those days on Yavin… he’d left so much behind. Aerith… Aerith, somewhere there, wanting to be reborn. The factories, the facilities… his books! Long forgotten tomes of knowledge and lore… waiting for him. Hidden away, underground. Entire libraries locked behind forcefields…
He’d have to go back there, someday.
It could never be like it was.
But everything happened for a reason.
Many wondered why they suffered. Endured the pains that they endured. But some took comfort in the saying; all roads. All roads lead here. No matter the choices and the costs, your path is set; if you endure what you endure now, there will come a time, perhaps long removed from the endurance of the suffering, where that endurance will be tested again, and if one survived it once, then they can survive it again. All roads of Ahnk led him to here. All choices. All mistakes. Everything had happened for this moment.
He knew, though, that in a dark corner of hell, Sith Lord Avery was smiling at him now.
“I’m not dead yet,” Ahnk offered as counterance. Then, he tested his theory.
He shuddered as a newfound agony took hold of his body. Montague slid her arms around his shoulders and neck, trying to keep him still. But nothing could suppress the spasms of a man as he is electrocuted. The lightning shot from his own fingers this time. He could stop at any time. But he had to be sure. Taking them apart one by one was taking too long. But he didn’t have the strength to do it all at once. But the pain… the pain had given him the energy he needed. Energy channeled into energy. Energy into machines. Dead machines.
He couldn’t stop until he was sure. He couldn’t be sure until he lost consciousness again.
Consciousness, with Ahnk Rashanagok, was a hard state to define, though.
He awoke to the smell of fresh grass. The familiar smell of fresh grass.
He shot up with a start, but a pair of arms held him fast. “Not so fast,” Montague said, whispering into his ear. “You’re still very weak.”
“I’m not dead?” Ahnk asked. A stupid question; he was in the midst of a fantasy world his own mind created. His living outside this world wasn’t currently relevant.
“Not dead yet,” Montague said, repeating his words. “You’re looking better too, apart from the smell. A bit like fried chicken. Not in an appetizing sort of way, though.”
Ahnk shook his head. “If I’m alive, why am I on Yavin?”
Montague shrugged; from her position, latched onto him like he could disappear if she let go, it was a gesture that Ahnk felt as well as heard. “You want to think of something nice from your past, I suppose. You still have massive internal injuries, some of them self inflicted from that shock of yours, which are going to take days to heal.”
Ahnk mulled that over for a second. “But they will heal?” He felt her grip tighten a little, which was answer enough for him. “Amazing, the memories you see before you die. Inspiration, hesitation… regret.”
“I hope you never get there again,” she offered from behind.
That caused Ahnk to shrug. “Everyone dies sometime,” he stated, matter of factly. “Eventually, I’ll die for good. Not sure if this body is my last or not. But no matter what, I can’t escape death forever.”
That created something of an uncomfortable silence. “You can’t make more?”
Ahnk shook his head. “I put a security measure into the cloning facilities on Yavin that required two force users to enter. That would ensure that any cloning was done with myself and another present. Montague… er… well, Montague… was Force Sensitive. So she worked. Finding Force Users nowadays isn’t easy… and I doubt I could talk Irtar or Organa Solo into following helping me make more of myself. Pretty sure they’re of the opinion that one is enough of a pain already.” He chuckled. “I know the Empire has cloning tanks… use them to make soldiers. I don’t know if they have any of my genetic material… even so. Living forever has its downsides.”
Montague nodded, chin brushing softly against his shoulder. “You can’t take it with you,” she said, drawing another famous quote.
“I’ve left all my money to Varia Jiren,” Ahnk said. “Felt I owed it to her, for being such an awful Jedi.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Montague said, stern voice sounding somewhat annoyed. “I meant the people you love. The ones you care about. You can’t take them with you when you die.”
“But I can take them with me when they die,” Ahnk countered. She spat out a frustrated sigh, and Ahnk turned. “I do want to thank you, though. You… whether you’re you, or a part of me… you helped me through that. I am not sure I could have done it alone.”
More silence followed. “You’ve gotten used to me,” Montague offered, then reconsidered, continuing to say “not, you know, in a bad way. Not that you take me for granted. But you… object less. You used to complain a lot.”
“Yeah, I guess I’m just getting soft in my old age,” Ahnk teased, and she stabbed him in the ribs with her finger. “Hey! That hurts.” He rubbed it gently. “I suppose… I was annoyed. There are many important people I would rather have summoned… my mother. I miss her dearly. When you, and I, were sparring partners. I would rather have had her. I guess though… in a way, given that you created me, you almost are my mother.”
She sighed, softly. “Well, I do appreciate that you feel more comfortable with me, and I almost hate to jeopardize that,” Montague said, “but I feel you do need to know; you are not my son.”
Ahnk turned to her slightly. “Well, I know that you’re not literally my mother, but figuratively…”
Montague shook her head gently. “No, you’re not following me. I was working within your metaphor, and saying that even within that context… what I mean to say is, you are not one of the clones that I created.”
Ahnk felt himself gasp. “But… it was you, and I, and Chang…” he said, recalling the cloning process in his head. “But if not you…”
She shook her head again, this time more forcedly. “I don’t know the answer to that. But… maybe that’s why I am so drawn to you. Never having known you… you are a little mystery Ahnk, that I’m not sure where you came from… and you’re different. You’re… just different.”
Ahnk wasn’t sure what to say. “I need to…”
He felt her arms clamp tighter. “Rest, Andrew Micheal Rashanagok,” she said, in a commanding tone. “You need to rest. There will be time for additional questions later.”
Ahnk didn’t like being told what to do. But with the realization that he couldn’t fight his way out of her imaginary grasp, he couldn’t help but agree. “Very well,” he said, leaning his head back and resting it on the softest part of her torso. “But if I’m just going to lay here and get better, then I demand you tell me a story.”
Unseen, Emily Montague smiled down at him. “Silly,” she said, but then stretched slightly and got comfortable. “There once was a little boy on Naboo…”
All roads lead here.
OS: In a world of bon-bons, you are a twinkie.
Ahnk: God damn you, I am Count Chocula and you know it.
I'm not spending my anniversary night thumping my head against the wall. - Damalis, on Moderating TRF
Then tell him you want it harder, damnit! - Ahnk, on Damalis