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The Rebel Faction » Forums » Role Playing » The Battlegrounds » Path of a Warrior (Closed)


11  7:00pm 18/09/09        
The Slothful Padawan
And with that lesson of lies, and truths Irtar was left to his thoughts for the evening at least.

Irtar gathered the holodisks from the pit, picking up the pieces of his life. Every disk held so many memories, some good, some bad, and some forgotten. His attention fell on the pictures and videos Ahnk had acquired. They felt cool as if they’d been out in the cold mountain air for hours.

Irtar made his way back into the room he had called his for the past few days. It was a small spartan room, with nothing more than a place to sit and some space to call his own, with the few things he brought with him thrown in a pile in the corner.

Fetching out a datapad from his pack, Irtar began to look at his life summed up through 1s and 0s.

As the lights flickered in the village far below, old thoughts and ideals flickered through his mind.


A Few Weeks into the Training

Life flowed in Irtar’s training under Ahnk in an odd parody of an ordinary person’s life. It quickly fell into a simple routine, with little time for oneself.

Morning start with a simple meal, normally just some steamed rice and tea, and Irtar was off to chop fire wood in the valley. The work would be swift with his lightsaber, but Ahnk had instructed him to use tools from the village below. A simple iron axe was the best he could manage.

The work was hard and arduous. At first he found some that had fallen naturally, but within a couple of weeks that supply had run out and he had to down his own. At first he had some troubles, including nearly bringing one down on his head, but he quickly got into the motions. He split the wood, loaded into a wicker basket he could wear on his back, and then ran back up the mountain.

Sparring and hand-to-hand training followed that. Irtar at one point asked why a Jedi would train with his hands, when he had a perfectly good blade. Ahnk replied by repeatedly disarming Irtar and throwing him around until he was sure the point was made. Ahnk had yet to drill him ways to use it against an opponent, saying application was useless if you had no idea about form.

After sparring was done, Irtar had to run down into the valley to a well to get some water. Occasionally he ran into people from the village, and gave them a kind bow, they replied in kind bowing lower. He still didn’t really understand them, but his mind was largely occupied with training.

Once that was done, back up the hill where Ahnk had been working on a barebones diner. Normally, more rice. Irtar then went to bed, exhausted, then woke up in the morning and the process repeated.

The regimen stood in stark contrast to the masters he’d been under when formally a member of the Jedi Order. Where Leia had him meditate, Irtar ran. Where Vodo had him reflect on his past, Ahnk prepared him for the future. More importantly, it was the first time he felt like he was truly getting anywhere with his training. At the temple, the masters seemed so… distant.

Irtar’s mind wandered one day when he was going to gather water. He had gotten to the point he no longer needed to focus on his footing, and could instead let his mind wander. He didn’t even notice that the thoughts were no longer questions of his place. Despite the intensity of the training, he was in a way happy to have a direction.

He played through motions in his minds, thinking of ways to use what he has been taught so far in combat. He thought of variations to get through what he was being taught so far, hoping to surprise his master.

Irtar paused at that thought. It still was odd to him.

After so long without a master, now suddenly here he was. This is where he should’ve been years ago. Instead, he had gone off chasing ways to help ‘fight the fight’ from behind a desk. He had his fair of fights to be sure, but he largely survived thanks to circumstance and the luck of the Force.

Coming around the bend to the well, Irtar found a few villagers there already gathering water. He put down the yoke and two empty buckets, leaning against the old fieldstone wall, waiting. Sweat formed on his body from the brisk run down, but he was no longer gasping for breath like he was early on. Their visit gave him a moment to prepare for the run back up the mountain.

Irtar nodded to the villagers when they all looked over at him, stunned that he was there. He didn’t know whether it was because they didn’t expect to see an outsider, or they had seen him brought in and couldn’t believe that he was running around like he was. They resumed their walk, talking in hushed tones.

They hurried about their work, and were gone quickly, casting Irtar dubious gazes as they left. He shrugged it off as simple superstition. Irtar grabbed his buckets, grabbing the line tying it to one bucket, lowering it below to gather from the deep well.

Irtar wondered how they had fresh drinkable water on Sinsang, considering the massive amount of pollution put out by the cities only too near. He guessed that maybe the mountains filtered out most of the pollutants, and the harsh rains of the lands beyond the mountains.

Fetching out the bucket, he took a long drink, and dumped the rest of the bucket over his head. The icy cold waters stood in stark juxtaposition to his aching muscles. He enjoyed the feeling for just a moment, before finishing his task, filling both buckets and taking the long trip back up.

The way back up was far more draining, and every thought was dedicated to the next step far more quickly than Irtar would’ve liked. It was long, and gruelling, but Irtar forced himself to maintain pace and balance.

He arrived back at the temple around the time the sun had become swallowed by the mountains, and the sky darkened. Sweating, exhausted, and nearly out of breath, Irtar made his way to the temple doors.

“Master, I’ve brought the water as you asked.” Irtar called out as he approached, yet another part of the routine of the daily routine. Soon, Ahnk would take the water, leaving Irtar to meditate for a while until diner. That was followed by bed, and then it all would begin again.

But tonight, something different…
12  10:34am 22/09/09        
Blink If You Can Hear Me
A noble thought is never worth as much as a noble deed.

Many are those who wish others well. Who hold them in their prayers and in their thoughts. Few are those who would hold others in their arms. To lift them from below with action, rather than intention.

Force equals mass times velocity.

A thought has no mass.

While thoughts can certainly travel with some measure of velocity, it is hollow and without substance. It cannot lift anyone. Prayers are useless; the last desperate measure of the damned to atone, but never effective in saving anyone.

Force requires mass. Substance. Force to pull or push requires action. Without forceful action, nothing can be accomplished.

A soldier was like a weapon, and how effective a weapon was up to the man who trained the soldier. Most people taught their soldiers to be rifles; not only how to use a rifle but to associate with, and understand, the functionality of, purpose for, and existence of a rifle. To be dehumanized and distanced from the humanity they were forced to end.

A rifle has its place on the battlefield.

But rifles did not win wars. The best soldiers were not ones who were disassociated from the men whose lives they took, but those who were deeply in touch with them. Men who understood why. That kind of knowledge was incredibly dangerous, for many reasons. Primarily, the main difference between one soldier and a soldier of an opposite viewpoint is often a completely negligible difference of political or geographical association, hardly worthy of the cost of life that was required to satisfy such a difference. So people were trained to not know, to willfully ignore.

But one when one knew… when one truly believed… and, in the moment, in the final moment’s of an enemies life… if one were of pure soul… than his enemy could rest, knowing that he had lost because he was wrong.

Not because he wasn’t as strong a weapon or because he was defending the wrong cause. But because he was truly evil; and in his pursuit of evil, he deserved to die.

Many have tried to indoctrinate soldiers with the knowledge that their cause is just and true. But if their cause were truly just and true, indoctrination would not be necessary.

When a good man kills an evil man, he does not need to reference what he was taught to know that he was right. He just is.

That is the difference between a rifle, and a razor.

In the sharpened blade of the razor only the truth exists, and no matter how thickly drenched one becomes in blood, he will always wash clean, because he is right.

Life is about making choices. You make yours, and you live or you die. Kill or be killed. But in the end, you are your choices. Not your words, or your thoughts, but your actions.

And in the end, you just know.

When Irtar went for his run, Ahnk spent much of his time in meditation.

Ahnk had noticed several months earlier, while searching for his son, that his body was not as strong as it had once been. He was becoming sluggish and weak in limb. He had considered the possibility that he was fatigued, but the answer was slightly more complex.

While Ahnk was fatigued, he was fatigued because he was experiencing massive organ failure. Andrew Micheal Rashanagok had been a staple of health, barring the massive injury suffered to his throat, but his clones were a different story. Ahnk, the Ahnk that was left, was a generation four clone. The first two generations had not lived long but had proven short term viability and allowed to research that would create the generation three clones. Those clones had proven to be viable in the long term and existed for many years, though as far as Ahnk knew, had all died as members of The Sith Brotherhood.

Ahnk was the only fourth generation clone. He was constructed differently; allowed to mature free of the mental influence of Ahnk and develop his own cognitive reasoning and thought processes independently of the Sith. It was thought that with this development he would be more ambitious and hungry than the third generation clones, which proved to be too docile to ever replace the Sith Lord should he be felled.

Of course, when developing his own thoughts, Ahnk had resisted the ambitions and goals of the Sith. He had met Ahnk, the original Ahnk, and argued with him for some time. In the end, the Sith Lord had considered him defective, and had him imprisoned while another generation of clones was created. The fifth generation would never arrive and after the collapse of The Sith Brotherhood, Ahnk would escape his prison and find freedom…

And, until now, he had believed he was completely fine.

Of course, there was clone madness; the brain’s inability to grasp that you are a person but are not that person. The difference between the assumed memory of the original entity and a new memory of a new being failing to mesh easily led to afterimages and burn marks on your recollection.

But physically, he’d never considered himself unwell. But now… he felt it, deep in his core. A degeneration of the lower digestive organs. He could not fathom why it was happening, except that something inside of him was destroying the organs of his body, and doing so at an alarming rate.

So, while Irtar ran, Ahnk used his knowledge of healing to reconstruct his digestive tract. His meals were simple and easy to dissolve; rice for carbohydrates and beans for protein, but it was hard to use digested materials to repair one’s body when one was not properly digesting them. Each day he felt himself becoming slightly weaker, but simply spent more time meditating. It took Irtar longer and longer to find firewood, which gave Ahnk more time to heal.

Of course, during his meditation, Ahnk kept watch on everything. From his days as an egomaniacal galactic despot, simply keeping watch on an entire planet was a walk in the park. Except that the planet was the park and he wasn’t actually walking. So, in a way, it wasn’t like walking in a park at all.

He watched when Irtar ran. Chopped wood. Gathered water. He watched as he was watched; as the civilians from down below watched him and studied him. They knew him… even out here, knew of him from the city. But he was not the same man.

He was… different.

Ahnk watched him change.

When Irtar brought the water, Ahnk had him come inside the monastery.

The main hall had been where Ahnk and Irtar had spent much of their time. The mats on the floor had been dusty but were dusty no longer. Ahnk knew many forms of Martial Arts, but taught Irtar specifically Udo, a largely defensive form composed of throws and holds designed to counterbalance an opponent and use their own momentum against them. Ahnk had not once shown Irtar how to attack, but rather how to defend against someone’s attack.

Ahnk did not attack people. He had fought for most of his life and had learned that aggression was what led to injury; by attacking someone, you expended your energy to inflict damage upon them, and they did the same, and in the end, one of you took too much damage and died. By practicing self defense one learned to use an opponent’s energy to hurt himself; by allowing someone to place themselves into an indefensible position, you won without needing to attack.

They had not studied lightsaber combat because all combat flowed not from knowing how to swing your arm but from knowing everything about your arm. Being in tune with yourself was much more important than simply recalling technique and form. Irtar learned to recognize motions made before thought was committed, and whereas when they initially sparred, Ahnk simply threw Irtar around at will, now, Irtar held his own.

Ahnk realized, as he felt a fresh surge of pain from the lower back, that in his weakened state, Irtar could probably take Ahnk.

As Irtar strode into the main hall, he was already sweating, and took off his tunic. “A break from routine today? Normally, we eat, and sleep. You want to spar?”

“I want to talk,” Ahnk replied. “Follow me.”

Irtar nodded, and picked up his tunic, folding it over his arm. “I wanted to say, Master, that…”

“I know,” Ahnk said. He had seen Irtar’s mood change as training became more involved. Less hypothetical, and more practical. Things had been different for him and it had changed the way he looked at, and interacted with, those around. Whereas Irtar had once been stubborn to take a fall, now he eagerly slammed himself into failure to learn why he had fallen, and how to avoid doing so again. Ahnk had at first thought he was simply masochistic, but ambitious and motivated was perhaps a more accurate description. “You are progressing well in your training. When you first came to learn from me, I asked you to tell me who you were; to find out your goals, and desires. I impressed upon you that it was important that you do not change who you are. But in the past few weeks, you have changed who you are without changing who you are. You have improved upon what you were without altering the core of what you are about. In that process, you do yourself proud.”

“Yes, Master,” Irtar said. He seemed almost confused by the compliment, but Ahnk shrugged such off. “Where are we going?”

“The Oratory,” Ahnk answered. “I have told you a little of the history of this place. Now, I will explain more. This particular monastery was created by a Fallen Jedi named Haazen. Haazen was cast out of the Jedi for his failures to vanquish a Sith and his jealousy towards a fellow Jedi, but when he touched the dark side, he killed the both the Sith and the Jedi in question. Without a link to any order, Haazen became an enigma. But he quietly bode his time, hiding his true allegiance, and training those who wished to follow him in the impending struggles he saw coming. Haazen, of course, is long dead, and so are all of those who would follow him, but this monastery is part of his legacy.”

The two stepped into a vast room; roughly circular, the chairs formed a circle around an elevated stone platform, upon which sat a podium of sorts. The podium was wood and steel, but was set into a stone basin upon which…

…a holocron!

Holocrons were used to store information recorded on them by both Jedi and Sith, and contained a piece of the person who recorded them; a part of their personality, memory, and soul. Holocrons were powerful information storage devices, but because the personality of the recorder was implanted on them, they could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

“It’s okay to stare,” Ahnk said, and Irtar shook himself from looking at the perfect red jewel. As a Jedi Apprentice, he had not likely been exposed to many holocrons. “I found this in the depths of the monetary, buried under layers of dust. It had become a trinket in a room full of trinkets. Surprising that it had not been stolen. It, too, is part of the legacy of Haazen; he recorded it.”

Irtar stepped closer, watching the pattern of the light. “What does it speak of?”

Ahnk grinned. “Touch it, and find out.”

Irtar turned his gaze back to Ahnk. “Aren’t Sith Holocrons dangerous?”

Ahnk shook his head. “In a way, but only… let me put it like this. Fire is dangerous. When a man creates fire he creates the ability to destroy, to burn, to ruin, to engulf in flames that which he loves, that which others love. If a man is taught of fire but is not wise enough to control that fire, he can in its creation destroy all that is important to him. A Holocron contains only information; it is only dangerous to those incapable of handling such information.”

Irtar kept his eyes on the jewel, but eventually shook his head softly. “Some other time.”

Ahnk nodded. “Information is a powerful tool, Irtar Mal’Gro, but it can also be dangerous if wielded incorrectly; your restraint is to be commended,” Ahnk said. He gestured to a door at the other side of the room. “There is more to the story of Haazen. Shall I continue?”

“Please,” Irtar said, and pulled himself away from the jewel, following his mentor.

“Haazen was a jealous man, and in his jealousy he led others to ruin and death. But the lesson to be learned from Haazen is not that jealousy is evil. Jealousy has its place, along with envy, but in an emotionally balanced being, can be overcome by dealing with the perceptions that create them. Rather, the lesson to be learned of Haazen is that sometimes following our leaders is not the best course of action; we are often better served by following our own instincts.”

“I don’t understand,” Irtar said. “How is that to be learned from, by your descriptions, a jealous and manipulative Sith?”

“Because it was not the Sith who were wrong in the tale of Haazen, but the Jedi,” Ahnk said. They reached the door, and he turned the handle, opening the glass door to the courtyard outside. The two walked into the brisk night air. “Haazen was manipulative, but it was the Jedi who carried out his evil wills. They committed atrocities because he manipulated the information provided.”

“A man creates fire,” Irtar said, and Ahnk nodded.

“A Jedi, or, for that matter, any man, must stop to consider each action he undertakes. It is not enough to simply follow orders; one must follow what is right. Orders can be made from evil men to service evil aims. Orders can ask too high a price. One must find the balance inside himself to justify each action he undertakes, because force is something one cannot rescind. Thoughts, and orders, are meaningless if the force to carry them out is not taken because the orders are wrong. Understand?”

“I think so,” Irtar said. His breath formed a white cloud in the air; the sun had set, and this high in the mountains, it was cold.

“Do well to remember these words; not every problem can be solved by being a good Jedi,” Ahnk said. He stopped walking, and Irtar fell beside. “You wondered earlier why the people in the village, when you gathered water, looked at you strangely. Would you like to know?” Irtar nodded his head, and Ahnk gestured with his gloved hand. There was a fountain set up in this courtyard; once, it had been functional, creating streams and bends of water to amuse those who would leave the monastery to walk here, but now, it was only a putrid pond of stagnant water. With the movement of a glove though, Ahnk brushed away the slime, the leaves and the debris, to reveal pure, black water, shimmering brightly under the pale moonlight. “Gaze upon yourself, Irtar Mal’Gro. See, and understand.”

When Irtar stepped to the water, he initially gasped and stepped back, before stepping forward again. Irtar was used to looking at a soft, clean shaven face, but now his face was hard and unkempt. The lines were defined as years of being a politician had been stripped away and melted from his face. His body, exposed by the removal of his tunic from his earlier heat, was unlike anything he had seen before… the muscular definition… he had gained weight! He had added size to his frame despite eating almost nothing…

…it occurred to him, then, that Ahnk’s daily routine had a sinister agenda. The chopping of the wood an exercise in hip, shoulder, and bicep movement, the fetching of the water, back and chest, the running, and everything, thigh and calf… he had developed, in a simple, daily process of gathering that which needed to exist, a methodology of altering that existence. Irtar had been so focused on doing what Ahnk told in the hope that he would teach him something to improve, that Irtar had not stopped to notice that he was improving himself.

That was why they stared.

“That is why they stared?” Irtar asked, aloud, and Ahnk nodded.

“You are not the person they recognize from the city,” Ahnk said. “You have changed. Not only in physical appearance or mental strength but… either way.” Ahnk said. “I believe the time has come for you to return to society at large. I have a mission for you. If you are ready.”

Irtar slid his tunic back on, taking one final look at himself in the water as the leaves and the grime spread back across its surface. Irtar was different, but fundamentally the same. He had changed but was still himself. Ahnk had asked him if he was ready.

Now he had to ask himself.
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
13  4:50pm 04/11/09        
The Slothful Padawan
The pungent smell of industry clung to the dead, the miasma of a rotting city. Acid rain fell from the heavens, giving everything the off stench of a split open battery.

Irtar had forgotten how terrible it smelled. His time in the city had given him a casual resistance that he had forgotten in his times in the mountains. And apparently, this city had just as casually forgotten about him.

Ragged from his time in the mountains, Irtar hadn’t bothered to clean himself up. He didn’t bother to throw on his torn grey suit. He came dressed in the old robes he wore as a padawan. Thanks to the long hike back through the mountains, they were filthy, dirty, and torn. To most, he’d just seem like some simple beggar.

But its not like they cared. They were distracted. Fear coursed through the streets of Bei-diang.

The people with masks gathering up the homeless dead, who had died alone in the streets. The distance people kept from each other. The revulsion whenever anyone coughed or cleared their throats. The holofeeds didn’t betray anything about the sickness, but you could see it on the streets.

It made sense really, Sinsang depended on its trade and if they were quarantined the planet would suffer the same fate as the people. So, instead of giving out proper health precautions, the government was having it downplayed.

A short briefing on the situation, and a commlink to get a hold of him and Ahnk had sent Irtar to find out about this sickness. His mission was to deal with it.

Ahnk had told him so far the elderly made up most of the victims. Again, sensible for most diseases. The weak and infirm are normally the ones who die. The problem is, the government didn’t know what it was.

Irtar thought of the three possibilities the government was examining right now.

The first, a new pathogen in the food supply. A lot of their food is imported, thanks to most of the land being developed outside of the mountains. Like every contract, they take the lowest bidder. Perhaps a bad batch of food stuffs managed to somehow make it past inspection?

The second, some poisoning people intentionally. This can coincide with the first. After all, someone could have laced the food being imported with something. The problem being, why would someone do something like that against Sinsang? Perhaps the Empire trying to cripple the Coalition’s industrial capacity? But Sinsang also provided weapons for them, so attacking their industrial capacity would be a blow against them as well.

The third possibility was that the pollution had finally reached a toxic level. The elderly, who have lived in the environment the longest, were just finally building up enough toxins to begin killing them. Looking up at the dark sky in the midday definitely gave the idea legs.

Irtar hadn’t gained too many friends in politics in his time in Sinsang. Most kept their distance, due to him being both a Jedi and a representative for the Galactic Coalition. Both had lead many planets to ruin in the past, and most politicians didn’t want to deal with people with morals.

He did however have a few friends at one of the major hospitals in the city.

Bei-diang Central Hospital was near the spaceport, which distinguished it as host to the best fast response team on the planet, and home to an entire wing dedicated to the off-world sick and injured. It was here, that a blind man wielding the Force and a creature the likes of which he’d never heard of ripped their way to kill a man with a briefcase. It was here, Irtar saved more than one life.

It was one of the few actually productive things Irtar had done in office.

The smell was what hit him first when he came through the front doors. That smell of sanitizers, antibiotics, blood, and death that all hospitals called home. The sterile white walls, marked only by the occasional poster about health or anatomy. The white paneled ceiling with hints of grey. The red benches for people to wait.

It was as hard a line between this hospital and the city beyond as it was between the city and the mountains.

Irtar walked up to reception desk, where a rather bored looking Sinsangese man looked up to him.

“Non-emergency off world patients and visitors need to fill out the forms to the left.” The man recited, going through practiced motions. “Take a number, and have a seat on one of those benches.”

“Hello, I’m here to see Doctor Mizaki.” Irtar said, completely ignoring the receptionist’s rant. “I have an appointment to see him.”

“An ER doctor?” The receptionist asked, casting a questioning gaze. Irtar shrugged it off with a sly smile.

“Hey, who said it was medical?” Irtar responded, not pausing for a moment. “I owe him a lunch.”

The receptionist seemed as if he was going to question it but shrugged. It may not have been his responsibility, or may not just have cared, Irtar couldn’t tell. “His offices are on the seventh floor. Good luck getting past his secretary…”

A short lift ride, a walk, and Irtar was standing before the good doctor’s office. The door slid past with a whir, and he had to fight to keep back a smirk. The receptionist’s choice of words hit him with all the… weight of the man before him.

“Can I help you?” The large man said as he looked up from the oversized terminal he was using.

“Is Doctor Mizaki in?” Irtar asked, looking around the large man to see where the door was, beginning to make his way towards the desk.

“Yes, but he’s doing some paper…” The man didn’t finish as Irtar just walked past the desk and opened the door, closing it and promptly locking it behind him. He heard a bit of commotion as the receptionist began to clamber up.

As an ER doctor, the room was mainly office space. A desk with a terminal, a large holoprojector, and a number of certifications hanging on the wall. “What are you…” The doctor demanded, a look of outrage on his face, until Irtar opened his robes and he saw the lightsaber. First, there was a look of fear and panic before he put together the familiar weapon and the dirtied features of the man before him.

“Irtar Mal’Gro? Everyone thinks you’re dead!” The doctor said as he practically jumped out, offering his hand and a smile. Irtar shook it heartily, returning the smile.

“Actually, better than I’ve been in a while. Fresh mountain air, does the body wonders they say.” Irtar replied, his smile turning into a sarcastic smirk. “Though I will have to ask you don’t let the authorities know I’m back in town. Not yet anyways.”

“Why? You haven’t gotten involved with the crime rings have you?” The doctor had a genuine look of concern on his face. It was true most people who did what Irtar managed to do would’ve been given an impressive contract with some illegal group out there, most were smart enough not to try and hire a Jedi.

“No, nothing like that. I’m actually trying to figure out some details on this plague. Symptoms, outbreak locations, the victims, how it plays out. Y’know, the basics. In Basic, preferably.”
14  12:53pm 11/12/09        
Blink If You Can Hear Me
“Just wait,” he shouted to no one in particular.

The sound didn’t stop though. Every few seconds it came, an annoying hum breaking up the relative silence he experienced. There were no vehicles up here; above or at ground level. There were no traffic controls to direct pedestrian flow. There were no pedestrians to direct at all. There were no street vendors, or grifters, or buskers. There was no one outside.

Inside, only Ahnk.

Ahnk and that goddamned noise.

“Just wait!” he screamed again, but then he sat upright. He realized why it wasn’t waiting. It was a mechanical construction, incapable of understanding his direction. It didn’t know his words were directed towards it. All it knew was that there was an incoming transmission, and to deliver the signal indicating such, every few seconds.

“Alright,” Ahnk said, cursing. He threw off his blankets and, with the force, quickly wrapped a robe around his body. If they wanted a visual he wanted to be presentable and since he hadn’t showered he had no idea what strange grime he had about his torso. His face he saw in the mirror; sunken, and tired, but otherwise, the same.

He pressed his finger down on the button to accept the incoming transmission and the vision of Irtar Mal’Gro filled the screen. “Where were you? I’ve been sitting here for an hour.”

“I was trying to ignore you,” Ahnk said, frustrated. “I was asleep and your incessant buzzing woke me up.”

Mal’Gro nodded, not seeming terribly concerned about Ahnk’s lack of sleep. “You look like shit,” he commented, dryly.

Ahnk turned back to the mirror. His cheeks were thinner, to the point where the hard jutting ridges of his bones were evident pushing up against his skin. The dark recesses that used to be warm muted flesh in the cavern surrounding his eyes betrayed how truly unwell he was. He wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t eating. He was slowly getting worse. “I look better than I feel,” he said, in all honesty. As bad as he appeared, he felt a lot worse.

With the honesty in those words, Irtar’s expression darkened a little. “How do you feel?”

Ahnk blew out a sigh; he was never one for sympathy. “I’ll feel better when I know what is going on. What have you learned?”

Irtar stepped aside, and a man in a white coat stepped forward. A doctor, Ahnk presumed. “My name is Doctor Mizaki, I’ve been working with a lot of the cases here in Bei-diang. Irtar told me you’d want a summary of what we’ve discovered so far.”

“Irtar is correct, as usual,” Ahnk said. “So what have you found?”

“The symptoms are fairly common across the board in the early stages. Fever, nausea, fatigue. They become progressively more serious as time goes on, as the fatigue becomes more pervasive and the organs began to shut down,” the doctor said.

“Renal failure?” Ahnk asked, and the doctor nodded.

“We’ve managed to stave it off so far with active dialysis in some of the worst hit, but that can only last so long, and we have only so many dialysis machines,” the doctor said.

Ahnk turned to the keyboard, punching in various codes keyed to his accounts in the Bank of Bonadan. “I’ve just made a donation to your facility. Buy yourself another fifty machines. That should help stem the tide.”

“I don’t know how to thank you, Mr…”

“Mister is fine. And thank me by coming up with a cure,” Ahnk replied. “Continue what you were saying.”

“Well, we looked at the outbreak locations to try and find an element of commonality,” the doctor said. “As you know, finding patterns of which the victims share can help identify the source of the outbreak. So far, the prevailing trend is that people in the cities seem to contract the condition almost exclusively.”

“Almost,” Ahnk said. He was in the monastery in the hills, and he was ill. That broke the pattern.

“As you know, there are exceptions to every rule,” the doctor said. “Beyond yourself, there are cases of villagers in the mountains who have taken ill. Tracking down an exact number is hard to do because many of them do not seek the medical services of the city, but rather prefer to keep their own council.”

“But you’ve seen cases,” Ahnk asked, and the doctor nodded.

“So far, we’ve been unable to isolate a particular element of commonality, be it a food source, water source, even the air itself is not common amongst the outbreak victims,” the doctor admitted with a sigh. “Without knowing the cause, we can’t slow down the rate of infection with any sort of public health advisory. All we can do is suggest that they wash their hands regularly. Hardly helps.”

Ahnk turned his face back to the mirror again. “So… tell me how it plays out.”

The doctor referred to his notes. “Usually symptoms start with a fever and a general feeling of nauseousness. The fatigue kicks in after a few days, followed by loss of appetite, vomiting, and bloody stool. After a few days of bedrest being fed intravenously, the organ failure starts to set in.” Ahnk nodded slowly, and the doctor narrowed his eyes slightly. “How long has it been since you could keep food down?”

Ahnk was about to speak, but stopped when he heard the buzz to indicate an upcoming announcement over the hospital intercom. “Doctor Gue, please come to the coma ward. Doctor Gue, please come to the coma ward.”

Ahnk turned back to him. “About six days,” he said, remembering the last time he’d tried eating some of the rice. “Renal failure is usually marked by spots and discoloration of the skin, correct?”

The doctor nodded. “You’ve lost pallor, but your skin itself doesn’t seem discolored. You should be okay for a few more days. If your condition worsens, though, you should consider checking yourself into a hospital.”

Ahnk nodded. “I will continue to monitor my condition Doctor. Irtar,” Ahnk said, and Irtar stepped forward. “Find what’s going on, would you? No more social calls.”

Irtar smirked, but said nothing. The hospital intercom buzzed again. “Doctor Gue, please come to the coma ward. Doctor Gue to the coma ward.”

“I’ll let you get back to it,” Ahnk said, “and hopefully Doctor Gue can find his way to the coma ward.”

Irtar seemed somewhat confused as Ahnk ended the transmission.

Once his face had faded, Ahnk turned to the mirror. He let the robe slide from his body and raised his arm.

Under his arm, the skin in his armpit had begun to show yellow and green spots.

Ahnk knew what that meant and the timeframe that Irtar had left had just shrunk considerably.

Without much else to do, the under the weather Jedi slid under the blankets once again. He let out a soft sigh and allowed his eyes to slowly slide shut.

“Doctor Gue, please come to the coma ward. Doctor Gue, to the coma ward.”

Ahnk growled, pushing himself up. “I thought I…”

He allowed his voice to trail off as he looked around.

He wasn’t in Sinsang anymore.

At least, not in the mountains. No, this was different. The dusty wooden walls were replaced with cold, white, sterile plastic. No, this looked like a hospital. Perhaps, more precisely, this looked like a coma ward.

From behind, Ahnk heard the closing of the door. He turned and couldn’t suppress the instinctive gasp that forced itself from his lips.

He started with the plain white shoes and followed up across the black wrapped legs. The white doctor’s coat began just before the knee and didn’t stop until it hit the shoulders. The bends of curves of a woman’s body could never be hidden so easily by only a labcoat; not that she was only wearing a labcoat, but Ahnk would recognize that frame in any outfit. Her shoulder length hair fell across the top of the coat in soft brown ripples, and her eyes were well lit with the light magnified through a pair of black rimmed reading glasses. She glanced down at her clipboard, then up at Ahnk with a soft smile.

“You look different,” Ahnk said.

She let her smile widen a bit. “Your organs have begun shutting down and the toxins that are normally removed from your system are flowing freely through your bloodstream, Mr. Rashanagok. The fact that you can see at all is a testament to the Jedi’s ability to maintain one’s own body despite the worst external situations.”

Ahnk blinked. “No need to stand on formality. Call me Andrew.”

“Alright… Andrew,” she said, as if trying out the name for size. “Do you know who I am?”

Ahnk nodded slowly. “Montague. Though I remember you differently, I couldn’t ever forget you.”

She blushed slightly. “I’m Doctor Emily Montague. Specifically, I am a doctor of after life care and victims of degenerative, terminal illness. You’re in the coma and terminal conditions isolation ward. Everyone here is either dead or dying. Or a doctor.”

“Or a combination of the three,” Ahnk said, wryly. “Can you tell me; which one am I?”

Her expression became more serious. “You’re not in good shape, Andrew. Your liver and kidneys have shut down and your body is filled with toxic chemicals. The blood, as saturated as it is, cannot effectively aid in the regeneration of your other tissue. That means that within the next two to three days, maybe a week if you apply your dogged Jedi determination, your other, critical life organs, will begin to shut down, and you will die. It will be a painful and prolonged process. I won’t lie to you; between now and when you actually pass there will be times you will wish you were dead. That is why I am here. I am here to help you deal with the transition, and the pain.”

“How, exactly?” Ahnk asked.

“I’ll be here, by your side, as your condition worsens,” she explained. “If you need anything, ask, and if I can, I will provide.” She looked down as Ahnk began to slide her labcoat off her body, revealing the short white skirt and button up white dress shirt beneath. She smirked, and pulled the coat back into place. “I’m a doctor, Mr. Rashanagok, not a prostitute. But anything else, I can try and help you.”

Ahnk took some time to consider before he answered. “Don’t let me be alone?”

Her smile returned. She took off the glasses, letting Ahnk look up into her soft, seagreen eyes. She sat down in the chair beside his bed, and when he held out his hand, she wrapped his palm in her fingers, squeezing it gently.

“I don’t want to die,” Ahnk admitted. “Not… not now. I have…”

“Shhhhh,” she said, placing the index finger of her other hand on her lips. “Rest now. We can talk later.”

Ahnk nodded softly. He could feel the warmth of her, somehow, leaking into his veins through the grip they shared. The cold that had enveloped him slowly slid away, and in the calm remnants, he found the peace to fall asleep.
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
15  2:05am 08/05/10        
The Slothful Padawan
It was something.

Of course on a planet where most of the population lived in the cities, most of the cases would be in the cities. It was just simple statistics. However, of ‘victims per population’, the numbers seemed to favour the city. There was some correlation, but it couldn’t be the condition of living in the city.

It wasn’t spreading through the water, since the areas didn’t share a common supply. It may have eventually spread via a water contamination, but not this fast. And it wasn’t going from person to person, since so few people went into those hills. Thinking through the possibilities it left only one way it could possibly be getting spread.

The air.

With an audible click, the electronic lock opened. Irtar looked around quickly to make sure he was clear before slowly opening the door. Quietly, Irtar slipped into the room, closing the door behind him. With a flick of a switch the old dim lights turned on.

The landlord had changed the locks, but all his stuff was still here thankfully. Irtar guessed the Coalition hadn’t yet refilled his position.

With practiced movements, Irtar’s hands slid from buttons to switches, lighting up all the equipment and computers in the room. Fans spew a little dust from misuse, wires surged with life, and his astromech chattered angrily about being left behind.

“Yeah, I know R5. But, astromechs weren’t made for the mountains now were they?” Irtar retorted as he pulled out a few datachips and plugged them into his computer.

It was rather jarring how quickly one can return to their old routine. It felt comfortable, but… strange. After months of training in the mountains, here he was. Where he began.

The tangents of his mind didn’t slow him down. Quickly, proxies were created and he was creating data tunnels. Hacking was an art. It required one to build a maze to trick anyone that would try to trace him, or turn off his connection. It required one to crunch numbers, and break codes quicker than their systems could react.

And it helped when you kept nosing around while you were approving projects as an ambassador.

And with that, Irtar was into the network of satellites that monitored the weather and atmosphere of Sinsang. And with a couple of more, he was into their database with all the information they had gathered over the past few centuries.

“R5, jack in. I need you to crunch some numbers.” Irtar said, as their network security began to respond, cluing into the fact they’d been hacked. He plugged a data line from the computer into a data port on R5, as he chirped quizzically.

“Atmospheric data. I’ll need you to compare it to the spread of this disease. I want you to compare the reported cases to concentration of any new particles or materials in the atmosphere, and trace it back to the source.” Irtar said as he began transferring information from the datachip he’d been given by the Doctor with all the information they knew on the disease.

Transfer interrupted.

The droid whirred angrily at Irtar.

“Oh, we do not have time for this!” Irtar yelled at the droid, as the network security team was already sniffing through the maze. “Lives are at risk, here!”

The droid repeated itself, turning its photoreceptor to the frustrated padawan.

“….Fine. I’m sorry for leaving you behind, and putting you in a position where you could get repossessed.” Irtar conceded, and the little droid chirped happily as data transfer resumed. “I swear to the Force though, one of these days, I’m going to wipe that bloody memory of yours back to factory default!”

The droid ignored him, smug in its little victory.

It took a few minutes, but they had they data they needed. Irtar cut the connection on his end, but left the maze otherwise intact. No point in letting them know he was gone, and which connection he was.

“All right R5, transferring the medical data now.”

And all the while, Irtar chanted in his mind. Please, no buffer overload.

The data was transferred over, without a hitch drawing a sigh of relief.
16  11:35am 03/12/10        
Blink If You Can Hear Me
“Come on, sit up.”

Ahnk opened his eyes, the tiniest crack.

“Come on, Master Ahnk,” the voice said, and Ahnk was annoyed at the tone the voice spoke in. “I need you to sit up so we can get some food in you.”

That suggestion Ahnk groaned at. He didn’t feel up to food in the slightest; he felt as if his body was being slowly pressed flat between two metal walls that were being pushed together by massive hydraulic arms behind. He felt like his abdomen was balancing an elevator and that, with every expansion of his diaphragm to draw a breath, the elevator came closer and closer to crushing him to death.

“I know you don’t feel up to it,” the voice cut in to his misery, reminding him he couldn’t simply pretend he was alone and they would eventually give up. “The truth is, Andrew, that your digestive organs are little more than strings of dead and diseased flesh. They can’t really process full meals. But nutrient soup you can handle; you take four or five sips and your stomach, which is still mostly intact, can steal what nutrition your body can handle and try and prolong your life another day, or two. You don’t take it, and I might as well push the last vial of morpha into your arm right now and call your family.”

“I don’t have any,” Ahnk shot back.

“Family?” the voice asked. Ahnk opened up his eyes; it was not a terrible surprise to see her there. “Sorry, I know; I read your file. Just a figure of speech.”

“Why are you doing this?” Ahnk asked.

“What, you mean being your doctor?”

Now Ahnk sat up. He ignored the fire that burned in his stomach to do so, and hid his pain behind a mask of rage. “No, this. This. Why you? Why do I die with you by my side? Why are you acting like an oblivious third party? Why the separation? Why you at all? I lived alone. I want to die alone, damnit.”

“Do you?” Montague countered back. “Regardless of how I act or behave, this is inside your head; this is the hallucinogenic reaction of your mind to the fact that the organs in your body are shutting down. This is how your subconscious mind chooses to deal with death. Nothing that I do means anything, does it, since everything I do is really just your mind creating the personae, the personality, the conversations themselves. What purpose they serve is entirely internal. So don’t argue with me; I’m going to win because I’m you and obviously I’m here for a reason, otherwise you’d just make me disappear.”

Ahnk frowned, throwing himself back flat to the bed. “Damn you,” he said, “and damn your infallible logic.”

She smirked. “Come on, you have to eat.”

He looked over at the soup. “If you’re a figment of my imagination, what good will that imaginary soup do?”

“The soup is real,” she said. “You fixed it yourself. I’m just here because your mind is stuck between ‘eat the soup, Ahnk’ and ‘it’s too late anyway, I’m already dead’, and I am trying to argue for the former position.”

“I don’t remember fixing soup,” Ahnk said, and sat up, slightly curious.

“You’ve been out of it for a while,” she said. “You seem to slip in and out of consciousness and a sort of bizarre sleepwalking state where you exist based on an entirely opposite set of logic. Believe it or not, it was your sleepwalking self that made up the soup. Your conscious mind, meanwhile, prepared the shot of morpha.” He looked up at her with a serious stare, and she nodded. “It’s beside the soup.”

Ahnk’s eyes danced over to the lethal painkiller injection that he, according to her, who was actually him, claimed that he, in the form of he and not in the form of her, had prepared. It made him more than a little confused. “You think that, consciously, I’ve given up hope?”

She pondered it. “You’re a man of contradictions, Ahnk Rashanagok,” she said, leaning over him. “You have lived a life of ceaseless violence for more time than many men have been alive. You’ve died, come back, and rejoined the fight, only to die again. The cycle continues again and again until you reach a point where you no longer remember why you began fighting; you simply do it because it’s all you have. You discover the benefits and the principles of peace and understanding, but you sit there at odds with yourself because your only self definition comes from chaos, war, and death. So you try and make peace through destruction. An interesting philosophy, but one that cannot be properly justified. Nevertheless, you soldier on.”

Ahnk raised his hand, and she allowed her lips to close. “Where is this thought process going?”

She leaned back a little bit. “Irtar Mal’gro,” she said, simply. When he leaned back and began to consider that direction of thought, she continued. “You are trying to assuage whether he has the necessary tools and way of thinking by which he can save your life and, by coincidence, the lives of thousands of other people on that planet. But you’re also thinking of the larger picture. Why you picked him in the first place. Why Natalya Vinda is training with Organa Solo. Why Irtar Mal’gro is training with you.”

“There’s something about him,” Ahnk said, half consciously.

“Indeed,” she answered back. “In many ways, he is very much like you were. But in others, he is very different. You’re trying to decide whether he can ever be the Jedi you are but, in many ways, he’s already better.”

“He has a future,” Ahnk offered.

Montague nodded softly. “The future you’re fighting for,” she added. “It’s one you’re going to die for. Because you know, deep down, that the future you have envisioned can never exist with you as a part of it. Better days are for better men, Ahnk Rashanagok. And you’re not going to be around to see them.”

Ahnk looked at her. She was very different from the woman he knew. She had been… mild. Meek. Quiet. Soft. Unable to stand up to him and speak her mind. He had enjoyed seeing his subjects cower before him. That fear had manifested into something else inside her, though. He had a feeling, here, now, even though this vision of her was a creation simply of a mixture of memories and illusions summoned from his own mind… he had a feeling that now, this was the real Montague.

He allowed his lips to curl into a smile. “I might not be long for better days,” he concluded, “but I’m too stubborn to just roll over and die.”

She smiled back as his hand closed around the handle of the spoon.

Seeing Irtar’s image on the monitor gave Ahnk a little strength; it allowed him to sit up straight and face the man squarely. “Irtar Mal’gro, it is agreeable to see you again,” Ahnk offered. His voice was buoyed by false bravado and the soothing soup he had somehow managed to ingest. “How goes your search for the cause of this awful illness?”

“Stagnated, at the moment,” Irtar confessed. “I did an analysis of the atmospheric data collected across the planet to try and track the first reported infections and correlate them to some sort of definitive natural phenomenon. I’m having the water systems checked too. So far, though, there is no evidence of any locally occurring cause for this disease. That’s problematic; if it came from offworld, then there’s nothing local we can eliminate to stop the spread, there’s nothing local that we can study to attempt to reverse engineer an immunity, and even worse… if it came from offworld, who knows how many systems could be in this state right now.”

“Have you heard anything from offworld?” Ahnk asked, curious.

“No,” Irtar said, “but we’re a way out here. It’s possible that the situation is only effective outlying colonies, in which case, it’s probably mostly an internal concern.”

“I have a question,” Ahnk interjected. “How was it that you were able to gather that information? Surely, not all of it was publicly accessible.”

Irtar grinned, somewhat sheepishly. “I may have… taken some liberties with regards to skirting around issues of security clearance,” he said, not admitting to, or denying, his hacking into the government’s satellite network. “I have a better understanding of what you meant when you said that not every problem could be solved by being a good Jedi.”

Ahnk nodded. “Where does your search take you next?”

Irtar shrugged. His body language made it clear that he was growing tired. “We don’t have many options left. We need to isolate what is causing this, but we have too many people who are sick to go in depth with any one person,” Irtar said. “I want to try and figure out if there is something in the leadup to getting ill that may have caused it… exposure to some kind of radiation, energy, a certain type of food… anything. But it’s hard to play question and answer when people are dying…”

Again, the elder of the two offered an understanding nod. “Then ask me,” Ahnk stated, firmly.

Irtar furrowed his brow. “I thought it best to allow you to focus your energy on…”

“I am dying, Irtar,” the Jedi Master offered. “My organs failed days ago. Only my strength in the force has kept the body I am encased in operating, and only then at a very diminished capacity. Whatever this disease is, it will kill me soon. Focusing my energy on keeping myself alive will yield no fruit unless the disease can be reversed, and unless the source of the illness can be found, the cure is impossible. So ask me your questions. I will offer you whatever answers remain in the span of my life.”
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
17  7:50am 18/12/10        
The Slothful Padawan
“I… Well, if you’re up to it, you’re the best source I’ve got and our only lead.” Irtar said with a concerned look on his face. He wouldn’t want to do this, but time was running short. Hopefully whatever Ahnk lost from this would be less than if he spent the next while running around the city.

“Whenever you’re ready.” Ahnk said, looking as solemn and grim as death.

“Alright… when did you first start having symptoms?” Irtar asked as he reached for a data pad to quickly jot down notes.

“When my leg began healing, shortly after we started training.” Ahnk said after thinking for a moment. “I began to feel fatigued even on days when I was not actively training with you.”

“Okay, good. Well, not good but…” Irtar stammered as he entered the note into the data pad. “Gives us a window to look at. Was there anything out of the ordinary you did before then?”

Ahnk gave him a stern look.

“Like… did you eat or drink anything you’ve never had before? Do something you’ve never done before? I dunno… swim in sewage or trade dirty needles?”

The look grew even more severe.

“I’ll take that as a no.” Irtar made a quick note, and proceeded to try and pick questions off the top of his head.

Irtar had never really been the best at medicine. He wasn’t that bad on the farm, but his father and brothers largely tended to the animals and crops. Irtar was a better mechanic, and the few times he had tried to do else wise proved it wasn’t worth the effort.

“What about the Force?” Irtar asked, with sudden confidence. “Any visions, or hints? If you’ve been battling the disease this long then you’ll have to have sensed SOMETHING.”

“I have not.” Ahnk said somberly. “If I had, I would have told you. I don’t profit from you groping around ignorantly. My vision has been clouded by the pain of those on this world… the sick and the dying. I do not believe this is tied to the Force any more than any other sickness.”

“Hrmmm…” Irtar was crest fallen, he thought he was on to something there. Some tidbit Ahnk may have forgotten of in delirium. “Maybe it’s something in the food. Maybe even a common dish you had-”

“Would be something you would have had before me.” Ahnk interjected, derailing the line of thought. “If it was in the food supply, you would have noticed it by now. But it is effecting all people on the planet. All classes of life. No common diet.”

“The effects of the disease are more prevalent in the city than in the outlying regions, correct?” Ahnk offered, trying to help the puzzled apprentice. “So, why aren’t you sick?”

Irtar thought for a good minute about it, trying to piece together what he’d been doing for the past while. He couldn’t really think of a good reason why so many people were sick and dying, and by some miracle of the Force he was still in good health. Ironically, probably the best health he had been in his whole life.

“I don’t know…” Irtar said finally. “I really don’t. Maybe it’s because I’m younger?”

“With the sheer volume of people who are sick, you could probably rule out age.” Ahnk said, helping Irtar to refine the best conclusion to act on with what time he had. “Age is of course an immunoresponse manipulator... the older get sick faster and harder.”

“Alright, so it’s not the food, it’s not the water, it’s not the air, it’s not age….” Irtar muttered going through the list of what they’d gone through so far.

“You can rule out person to person and airbone virii on the basis that you aren't sick.” Ahnk added to the list. “Unless you’re immune.”

“Which would make a lot of this back and forth pointless.” Irtar muttered as he tapped his fingers on the datapad. “Could be an offshoot of the Dantari Mumps for all we know.”

“Well, let us assume you have merely been lucky so far.” Ahnk decided, before trying to encourage a new line of thinking. “We have determined that it is something more prevalent in the city than in the countryside. What other elements are there?”

“Uhm, let’s see…” Irtar thought for a couple of seconds. “Animals? I’ve heard of some diseases that are transferred from animals to people. Had an outbreak of rabies in a pack of Kath Hounds a county over, and a few people were hospitalized for it. Also, heard of some diseases that are transferred by the fleas on rats. Maybe it’s like that?”

“Usually in animal carrier diseases, they do still have symptoms of a precursor disease.” Another line of thinking, another nugget of biology to squash it.

“Alright, so it’s not animals, it’s not food, it’s not the water, it’s not the air, it’s too widespread to be direct poisoning, it’s not person to person be it airborne or saliva or STD…?” Irtar paused for only long enough for Ahnk’s look to begin to sour before continuing. “and it’s something more prevalent in the city than in the country.”

Irtar could debug a system, fix a droid that has been rotting the swamps for forty years, and breathe another week of life into fried farm equipment. But could he do the same for a person? Apparently not if his life depended on it; or in this case his Master’s.

“Alright, let’s get back to the basics. It has to be SOMETHING you did, and I didn’t.” Irtar said, putting the pad down. “What have you done since getting planet side? Before we met up?”

“Not much…” Ahnk said, causing Irtar to be the one to give the stern look.

“Then the list should be short.” Irtar pointed out.

“Okay…” Ahnk said, sighing a bit while thinking back and trying to recount what was going on. “well, he arrived on the surface of the planet. Checked in his ship and docked it. Cleared customs, and cleared medical. Then-”

“Whoa, hold up. Medical?” Irtar interrupted. He was on to something with that, he knew it. “What happened during the medical?”

“Standard physical. Screen for exotic diseases. Inoculations. Survey. Prostate exam. You know, standard stuff.” Ahnk said, summing up the entire procedure. But, there hadn’t been any inoculations before when Irtar came through, but that was prior to Sinsang joining the Coalition.

“Inoculations?” Irtar asked with a suspicious look. “What inoculations?”

“Well, I’m not a Coalition citizen,” Ahnk pointed out. “So I don't have the standard inoculations that Coalition citizens have. None of their flu shots, none of their anti-allergens, no Pancea. Nothing like that.”

“I have a doctor to see about some inoculations.” Irtar said, jumping up. He had his lead. “Get well soon.”

His R5 he left to start packing. If this was a cure, he’d need to make his way back to the mountains quick. He didn’t know what he’d do with the stuff once he got back to the temple, but he could at least leave the stuff there rather than to get auctioned off or junked.


It was late in the afternoon when Irtar arrived at the hospital. It was no trick getting in without much hassle. It was just a matter of retracing his steps from before, and he quickly made his way up to the doctor’s office.

“The Doctor is currently busy trying to…” The secretary began, and his expression soured when he saw Irtar. “Oh, you.”

“Sorry about earlier, but I had important news to talk about with the Doc. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got more.” Irtar said as he pointed towards the door, inching past the large man. Otherwise, the secretary didn’t try to stop him.

Doctor Mizaki was looking at some sort of genetic strand on his holoprojector when Irtar entered the room, deep in thought. He was visibly jarred when Irtar entered the room, suddenly turning to face him.

“Oh! Any luck?” The doctor asked, cutting right to the chase.

“I’ve got a lead, but I’ll need your help. I need you to go down to your storage room, or wherever it is that you store your inoculations.” Irtar said, the doctor giving him a strange look.

“Which inoculation?” The Doctor asked.

“Uhm.... I don’t know which one in particular.” Irtar said slowly, causing the doctor to give him a stern look. “It’s one of the ones administered during the medical of off world visitors who aren’t from the Coalition. Fringers and such.”

“Are you suggesting that the medical community is behind this?” Mizaki asked, as shock suddenly washed over him. As a doctor that most off world patients went to, he probably knew he was in charge of those things. Dark plots enacted by close comrades were probably playing through his head.

“All I know is that a person I know is sick with this thing. I ran through the sensor data as closely as I could, and it’s not in the water or air. The only thing that makes sense that he’s gone through is the inoculations he got. All I’m asking is bring the lot in, and give them a complete run down.” Irtar explained, trying to get the doctor on board. “Just go down, grab a set of what you need, and come back. Quietly. Try not to raise any alarms, or grab any attention.”

“It won’t be that easy. There is procedure, and generally I don’t give inoculations and such. I deal with trauma….” Mizaki stammered out, nervous about the demanded precaution.

“Well, if there is this much bad medicine across the whole planet, then either one of two things has happened.” Irtar said, as he lifted a hand. “One of your biochemical companies has really fucked up, and has accidentally let out a long run of bad product without noticing.”

“Or,” Irtar took a breath, as he shifted the other, and his expression darkened. “One of your biochemical companies REALLY fucked up, and has been letting out a long run of bad product on purpose.”

“And what if there is someone purposely behind this…?” The doctor asked sheepishly, as the colour slowly crept from his skin.

“The dying come first, after that we worry about the sick.”
18  12:54pm 30/12/10        
Blink If You Can Hear Me
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?”

“It’s helping.”

“Is there anything else I can do?”

“Press harder.”

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.”

“Were my…”

“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.”

Ahnk stopped.

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.

“Do it.”

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.

Everything changed.

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
19  3:48am 06/02/11        
The Slothful Padawan
“I’m telling you all the scans turned out nominal. There’s nothing wrong with the inoculations.” Mizaki said firmly, as Irtar paced across the room. It couldn’t be anything else! It’s the only logical source of the disease.

The room was dark. The holoprojector slowly cycled through the different make ups of the inoculations.

They’d spent the better part of the last four hours analyzing every sample for foreign toxins, and they all turned up clean. Irtar refused to believe they were licked. If it was something the normal scans and procedures would’ve shown, the bad batches wouldn’t have gotten to the public in the first place.

“Well, let’s think about this doc.” Irtar said, as he tapped at a datapad. “What IS renal failure?”

“If it was tha-” Mizaki began to protest, in frustration, but with one firm look he took a breath and began to recite. “Renal failure or kidney failure describes a medical condition in which the kidneys fail to adequately filter toxins and waste products from the blood. The two forms are acute and chronic; a number of other diseases or health problems may cause either form of renal failure to occur.

Renal failure is described as a decrease in the glomerular filtration rate. Biochemically-”

“Assume, just for the next little bit, I know NOTHING of biology.” Irtar muttered as he clapped his hand to his head. He had to be the only Jedi in the galaxy with no sense of biology.

“The kidneys stop properly filtering toxins properly. But, the Kidneys are apparently healthy in the beginning parts of the disease.” The doctor summarized, as he turned back to the holoprojector. “If it was simple we’d have figured it out by now.”

“Okay,” Irtar said as he tapped his datapad. “So in this case, why does this happen?”

“The intestinal tract actually stops properly filtering and digesting food, and starts shutting down for some unknown reason.” The doctor answered, and with a wave of his hand brought up a hologram showing the known results in accelerated time. “The flood of toxins eventually overloads the immune response system and shuts down the kidneys.”

“So, what do we have that could do that?” Irtar asked as he motioned one hand towards the inoculations.

“None of the inoculations your master received would have anything to do with the digestive tract. A few immune system boosters that have all checked out uncorrupted and did nothing to test samples, and the Pancea which is in parameter.” The doctor said for probably the fifteenth time that afternoon.

“Why did you group the Pancea separately?” Irtar asked, as a realization began to dawn on him.

“Well, because it is not a standard inoculation. It is the Coalition’s ‘miracle cure’. When we joined the Coalition, we began to be required to stock it and use it like any other Coalition world.”

“Well, what’s so special about it?”

“The Pancea is actually composed of nanobots which adapt to help the body fight off various infections. It has unfortunately proven ineffective against this disease.” A hint of the exasperation the doctor was feeling getting into his tone. But Irtar knew he had something. He knew, at the very least, it would give him a lead.

“Well, can we get some of the Pancea bots out of one of the victims from that area?” Irtar asked, a rising feeling his chest. He knew he was on to something. “If it’s an adaptive bot it’s gotta have some logs. How else can the damn thing remember to keep fighting whatever flu? Maybe it’ll give us a hint.”

It didn’t take long to get a sample from the isolation lab. Normally, Pancea was encrypted to prevent foreign powers from toying around with it. But, the hospital had the equipment to examine the Pancea they had for inspection and diagnostic purposes. Due to the Sinsang’s location in the rim, occasionally species came to the planet that had an adverse response to the Pancea, sometimes even necrosis.

It didn’t take long for the doctor to return with the samples, he had more than his share of patients in the ER. The doctor put the sample into a small cylindrical receptical at the base of the holoprojector and a small whirring sound began to emanate from the machine.

“It is hooked up to my terminal here, if you would like to look.” The doctor said, as he moved a bit to the side so Irtar could shove in next to him. He looked at the screen, thinking back to his work at the embassy of what the likely commands would be.

After a bit of trial and error, Irtar had up the data logs from the Pancea. The robots had been busy, seemingly trying to fight the infection. At roughly the point the disease began, it began to spiral out of control with bacterial incidents in the digestive tract. The question was how the bacteria got there to bloom, and how it was damaging the digestive tract.

“We never found any bacteria when going through the digestive tracts of victims.” The doctor commented, his brow crested with concern. “What did the Pancea find that we couldn’t? Can you bring up the bacteria on the holoprojector, so I can take a look at it?”

A couple of button presses, and the holoprojector’s screen shimmered. It seemed like some sort of tube shaped thing. After a moment of looking at it when the make-up began to be displayed at the bottom of the projection, the doctor’s jaw seemed to drop.

“What is it?” His confusion leaked into his voice. “Isn’t this what we were looking for?”

“No… this is the normal stomach florae….” The doctor said slowly, as the realization hit him like a tidal wave. “The Pancea has been attacking the digestive tract!”

The Pancea was working within the specifications, but it found the digestive tract a stronghold for bacteria. For some reason, this specific batch of Pancea had decidedly to proactively seek out and destroy the bacteria, and the causes behind it. Violently lashing out at the digestive tract and wrecking havoc on it. Necrosis was sure to follow, the kidneys unable to cope with the amount of toxins in the body failed soon after.

The doctor immediately called his department head, demanding the Minister of Health be informed and that the Pharmaceutical Companies begin to work on a cure fast. Irtar, however, was three steps ahead of him. With the nanobots at his disposal, Irtar quickly deleted the list of targets for the Pancea and reprogrammed it with one target: Other Pancea.

An exception was added in for nanobots of the serial series he was working with, but to allow for future Pancea assistance Irtar added a self breakdown protocol for a week in the future. It all took him less than an hour to throw together. His years working on machines and his months helping overview Coalition projects didn’t seem like such a huge waste, after all.

A Jedi never knew what skills were helpful.

One could appreciate the beauty of the mountains more, when one was not half starved and climbing them in office attire. Irtar looked out the window of the small shuttle quietly. He had finally really accomplished something. He may have just saved hundreds of lives, but it was the life of his Master that was on his mind right now.

He had not answered any of his calls, and thoughts were racing through his head. Had he been too slow? Was this success still a failure, his goal coming to naught?

It had taken an hour for the shuttle to get there. After finding the root to what turned out to be a life threatening computer glitch, and letting Doctor Mizaki have the credit, he had earned his trip back to the mountain temple. The doctor knew someone with the shuttle that could take him quietly back.

Irtar had no desire for credit, or to cause a scene, or to get slowed down answering questions. He needed to get back, quickly.

He would not fail another Master.
20  1:11am 09/02/11        
Blink If You Can Hear Me
“You did what?”

Irtar wasn’t sure grinning was the appropriate response, but damnit if he didn’t feel a little bit proud of himself. “I reprogrammed the targeting software to detect other nanobots; in so doing, I was able to get the malfunctioning bots to target each other, greatly reducing their numbers and thus their effect on the body.”

Ahnk nodded slowly. He was impressed. “In so doing, you probably saved thousands of lives,” Ahnk said. “I admit, when I noticed people began getting ill, I had no idea it would be a task so… suited for you. I initially tasked you with it to broaden the scope of your considerations but in the end… your particular abilities with machines and machine code became invaluable.”

“The Force works in mysterious ways, I suppose,” Irtar responded with a shrug.

“Perhaps,” Ahnk mused. “There’s an old philosophy; it deems that all roads lead to but one destination. And no matter the choices you make in life, you are where you are because it is where you were meant to be, and that… moments in our life draw us in, invariably, and no matter how much we may move away from what we were, it is what we are, and are meant to be.”

Irtar frowned, considering. “Do you believe that?” he asked. “Believe that we have a fate… that we do what we are meant to do?”

“Perhaps,” Ahnk said. “While Montague was looking after me, she mentioned a Hellena Dritz. She was a Sith Lord, one of Montague’s lovers back at the Yavin Sith Temple. When I first met her, we met in combat, and in combat, she attacked me with lightning. I survived, largely because decades earlier, I had been likewise attacked by Sith Lord Avery, for hours at a time, taking me almost to the brink of death… the memory all tied together because, to save myself from the nanobots ravaging my body, I had to subject myself to the same lightning.”

Irtar grimaced slightly at that. “That must have been painful,” he said.

“Oh, it was,” Ahnk confessed. “But, in the waning moments of what life I had, I had to ponder if the reason I’d borne the brunt of those assaults, so long ago, had led me to this moment… was surviving lightning a repeating pattern in a tapestry of fate, or just a coincidence?”

Irtar shifted slightly, curious. “What did you conclude?”

Ahnk turned directly to him and smiled. “Life is not about answers, but questions,” he said. “You aren’t really learning anything if you come to conclusions. The only way to learn is to ask a question and, upon hearing the response, immediately draft a handful of further questions.”

“Sounds arduous,” Irtar said, and Ahnk nodded. “So… where were we?”

“A little bit of housekeeping,” Ahnk said, turning back to his computer, now relocated as he no longer needed to be confined to bed. “Your good Doctor Mizaki informed me that the situation in the city is improving drastically, thanks to your efforts. He thinks the situation has largely stabilized. He also said the Coalition has offered to pay any costs related to our measures to control the situation; they believe there was a slight error with the processing at the factory level which allowed outdated software to be imprinted on the nanobots in question. They’ll be making a fresh shipment with corrected software within the week.”

Irtar hesitated before asking the next question. “How many people died?”

“Two hundred and forty, across the entire planet,” Ahnk said, solemnly. “Doctor Mizaki said that the majority of them were in the later stages of terminal illnesses and likely would have lost their lives in the near future regardless. As it is, their advanced immunoresponse impairment contributed to the Pancea becoming more lethal than in other, stronger, healthier victims.”

“I want those families looked after,” Irtar said. “I’ll speak to…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ahnk said, putting a hand on Irtar’s shoulder. “The Coalition has agreed to cover all associated costs for services and insurance benefits for the families. In addition, I spoke to someone with the Commonwealth, and they’re going to donate money from the accounts I have set up with them to cover a new hospital, dedicated to the victims of this outbreak. Mizaki said the Coalition suggested it be named after you.”

“I don’t want credit for this,” Irtar said. He turned, slightly frustrated. “I was just doing my job… just doing what I could. I’m not a hero.”

“I told Mizaki you would say that, so they’re likely going to name it after him,” Ahnk said, his smile widening a bit. “You can deny it though you will, but you played a large part in saving a lot of lives by which you did. Could others have done the same? Maybe. But you were the one who did it. You had the skills to fix the situation and the calm and nerve to not be overwhelmed by it. You did good work, and I’m more than a little proud.”

Irtar nodded. “I just wish we’d worked it out sooner,” he lamented, and Ahnk nodded in return.

“That’s why I know I’m training the right person,” Ahnk said. “Saving the world is not enough; you beat yourself up for saving it sooner. You have a bright future ahead of you, becoming a self-loathing alcoholic lamenting his shortcomings like the rest of us Jedi.”

Irtar chuckled slightly, walking forward to the balcony. “Can I ask you something?”

“You just did,” Ahnk countered, keeping the mood light.

“You know what I mean,” Irtar said. “It’s a personal question. About something you said earlier.”

“I’ll answer any of your questions, Irtar Mal’gro,” Ahnk said, nodding his head as the pair stepped out into the open air. “You have earned that much of me.”

“You mentioned earlier something about Montague…” Irtar began, then trailed off a little. “I thought you were here alone while I was in the city.”

Ahnk’s smile faded slightly. He closed his eyes. “I can see, in my head, a rising crest of flame. From it snaps a red lightsaber blade, and then follows a woman, hair as if made of flame itself. She is lithe, but powerful, and her eyes, black as obsidian, are rimmed with a red glow of hatred and anger.”

“Dehoir,” Irtar said. “You’re talking about Dehoir. How do you know about her?”

“I know only what you allow me to know,” Ahnk said, eyes slowly opening. “Your thoughts are fixated on her, often; she is a dark mark on your otherwise clear thinking.”

Irtar ground his foot into the stone balcony in frustration. “I don’t want to discuss it,” he said, arms folding across his chest.

“That's alright,” Ahnk said. He stepped past Irtar, looking out over the world below; down the mountains, the edges of a village at the foot of it lost in fog, with only glimpses of the tops of structures piercing the veil. “I, too, have a woman rising from fire. Her name is Emily Montague. She was a doctor.”

“Was?” Irtar asked, and Ahnk turned to him and nodded softly. “What happened?”

“I don't know,” Ahnk replied. “When I decided to turn my back on the Sith, those who had worked with me, my generals, my commanders... even my doctors... saw it as my betraying them. They negotiated an arrangement with the New Order... and I was caught in the middle, trying to convince the Jedi I hadn't set this up myself. It was a disaster and... Montague ended up on the other side of the divide.”

“What happened then?” Irtar asked. A fair question; that was ancient history nowadays.

“I don't know,” Ahnk said. “I've been looking for Chang... her handler... for years since then. But he's proven hard to find, which means he either made a deal whereby he doesn't need me... or he got made himself.”

“Made?” Irtar asked, and Ahnk pointed a pair of fingers at his temple. “Oh, right. That doesn't explain anything, though. What did Montague mean to you?”

Ahnk blew out a warm sigh, turning back to the clouds. “Nothing, at the time,” he admitted. “Maybe that was the problem. To me, she was a talented geneticist, and the perfect person to put in charge of my cloning programs. Once she worked out a way to clone the Massassi, I set her to work on creating human clones... chiefly among them, clones of myself. I had, actually, intended to kill her once her work was done... limit the risk of her using it for others, or having access to undo what she had done for me.”

“But you didn't kill her?” Irtar asked, curious.

“Someone killed me first,” Ahnk said, grinning. “One of my students, actually. Probably why I'm so proud of you... low standards in place.”

“Funny,” Irtar said. “Do you think you could survive a fall from this balcony?”

Ahnk chuckled. “Anyway, I never managed to find Montague again. Chang told me she was dead. That is all of her I know,” he said, “besides the legacy she left behind.”

“Legacy?” Irtar asked, and Ahnk nodded again.

“She reshaped the Sith Temple after her own ideals,” Ahnk said, remembering back. “It eroded what had once been a Golden Sith Empire, and turned it instead into a simple den of sin. Others have made the same mistakes. Too many people think that a Sith's power comes from the Dark Side of the Force. But they don't know the truth.”

“What truth?” Irtar asked, once again very curious, but this time Ahnk shook his head horizontally instead of vertically. “You can't tell me?”

“You're not ready to hear it,” Ahnk said, bluntly.

“I think I deserve to know,” Irtar said, and paced slightly before spinning on his heels. “You said I'd earned the right to have you answer my questions.”

“Not this one,” Ahnk said. “I'm telling you that you don't want me to answer this question.”

“I'm telling you I do,” Irtar said, defiantly.

Ahnk turned to him, and looked directly at him. “If I told you, what you want me to tell you, you'd call me a liar. You'd call them all liars. You'd be angry. You'd feel betrayed. And you'd have that right. And you'd be right, about liars, but I want you to understand, I've never lied to you. I didn't want to tell you that what you knew was a lie. I was going to tell you... eventually. There had to be trust. You had to be prepared to hear it. I wanted to know you could handle it.”

Irtar's patience had elapsed. “Just... tell me.”

“Alright,” Ahnk said, turning his face back to the clouds once again. “The truth is, a Sith's strength doesn't come from the Dark Side Of The Force. It comes from a disciplined mind, and a dedicated heart. It comes from training and focus. There is no overt reliance on the Dark Side for power. It's because there is no Dark Side.”

Irtar furrowed his brow. “What do you mean, there is no Dark Side?”

“What I said,” Ahnk said. “I've known it for a long time, and I'm sure the Jedi have too. There is no Dark Side Of The Force. It doesn't exist. It's just a brush stroke; a label. We label the actions of evil as the actions of the Dark Side, but that's not true. The Force is just The Force; it's just a tool, like a lightsaber. Powerful yes, dangerous yes, but not inherently good or evil by any means. The Force is neutral. The Sith are evil because they choose to be evil. Because they choose to use that power for darkness. But the truth is, the power itself is the same one you use. The Jedi tell you otherwise because the truth is, the only thing making you a Jedi and not a Sith is what you choose to do. The philosophical, religious divides, are constructs designed to differentiate us from them, but deep down, we're the same. And the only thing that makes you you is what you choose to do, not what side of the force you use. The Force does not take sides, Irtar. That's up to you.”

Irtar looked at him seriously, and for a few moments, there was only silence.

“I'm sorry to have not told you sooner, but the Jedi taught you otherwise for years; I didn't know how you'd react,” Ahnk said. “And this is not the ideal way to find out, either. But now you know. If you want to call me a liar you can call me a liar, all I've told you is the truth. Believe it, dismiss it, ignore it... the truth is just like The Force. What you do with it is up to you.”
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