Once A Warrior, Part V Rating: PG-13
ThrawnMcEwok

Anakin Solo is dead.

This is not a metaphor. It is not an euphemism. It is not a clever turn of phrase. It is flat biological truth.

Anakin Solo is dead.

His naked corpse lies on a cold slab, insensible to the unsentimental ministrations of the Yuuzhan Vong adepts who have been tasked with preparing him for his transition to his next life. They work with brisk efficiency, knowing that the priests and the warriors expect them to present his body for disposal within the kett.

The Great Doctrine insists that an infidel hero who embraces the pain and dies in agony will be reborn as a Yuuzhan Vong. Honouring him with a warrior’s funeral is a way of affirming that he embodied their own virtues even as an enemy, and of speeding his soul’s path onto the True Way.

Anakin, of course, knows none of this.

His heart has stopped, his lungs crushed by the dead weight of blood and muscle around them. His flesh is pale and cold, cut to the bone by savage wounds, discoloured by the livid mottling of massive cell-trauma.

It is hard to tell whether the weapons killed him, or the burning of the Force inside him. Either would have been sufficient, several times over. It’s really only a question of what he succumbed to first.

His lips are slightly parted, unnaturally still. They are turning blue, their frosty paleness contrasting with the darkening trail of dried blood which runs down his chin.

His eyes are open, but unseeing — blue, blank and glassy, blind to the ticking beam which switches back and forth across his face, and the golden light which burns behind it.

He is, in every way that matters, dead.

He died about twenty-seven miniketts ago, in the cloning node of the Yuuzhan Vong damutek aboard the worldship Baanu Mir, in an L5 orbit around the planet Myrkr. He was seventeen years and two months old.

Injured and exhausted, he had just thrown his last thermal detonator at a cargo pannier full of clone tissue. He believed — perhaps through some Force insight, perhaps simply because of the fog and fantasy of trauma-induced delirium — that this would mark an end to the voxyn project, and the successful completion of the mission he had come to Myrkr to carry out.

He missed.

At the time of his death, he was being dragged screaming out of the tissue-transfer chamber by the surviving warriors of the élite cadre known as Three Scourge, with the muscled sphincter of the portal folding solemnly shut between him and his target.

As he died, he was still reaching desperately for the grenade with one hand, as if he could somehow touch it with his outstretched fingertips, somehow brush it towards the pannier.

But the last he had seen, the detonator had been rocking idly back and forth in the middle of the deck, well away from its intended target — and the Yuuzhan Vong élite named Nom Anor, who had lured him to his death there, was starting back towards it, to kick it even further away.

He didn’t see what happened next.

He died in agony, not knowing whether he has succeeded or failed, knowing only that he had tried to make a difference — and that a thousand generations of Jedi teaching insisted that that was not enough.

Now, none of that matters to him any more.

He is simply dead.

Twenty miniketts ago — seven minutes after his death — Nom Anor and the alien agent known as Vergere brought his body to Master Shaper Yal Phaath in the main antrum of the damutek, and ordered the Master Shaper to try to revive him.

But seven miniketts ago — twenty minutes after his death — Nom Anor and Vergere left again, content that he was beyond hope of revival, leaving the Master Shaper and his team to prepare his corpse for disposal according to Yuuzhan Vong custom.

The Great Doctrine insists that an infidel hero who embraces the pain and dies in agony will be reborn as a Yuuzhan Vong warrior. Honouring him with a warrior’s funeral is a way of affirming that he embodied their own virtues even as an enemy, and of speeding his soul’s path onto the True Way.

Since Nom Anor and Vergere are both of a cynical disposition, they are also hoping to use the ceremony as a lure, to draw the survivors of his strike team into another trap.

Anakin, of course, knows none of this.

Anakin is dead.

His naked corpse lies on a cold slab, insensible to the unsentimental ministrations of the Yuuzhan Vong adepts who have been tasked with preparing him for his transformation and rebirth. They work with brisk efficiency, knowing that they are expected to to deliver a ritually-prepared body in less than a kett from now. The Master Shaper has made very clear what they must do to this mutilated cadaver before then.

One thing is clear. They are pure practitioners of Yuuzhan Vong bioscience. If they have any thoughts about the alien techniques which Vergere brought to bear during their earlier attempts to revive the boy, they keep their opinions to themselves.

Anakin, of course, has no opinion whatsoever.

In the time since Vergere left, the last of her bioengineered tears’ healing energy has faded from his system. The adepts have made further interventions in his cold, dead flesh, garbing his naked body in a regalia of neat incisions and brutal gashes. They have implanted symbiotes, introduced parasites and bacteria, and infected him with fast-acting viruses and RNA strands. They have physically bound his corpse into the biotech hive of the damutek with interface grafts.

Anakin Solo cannot protest.

Anakin Solo is dead.

His flesh is pale and cold, cut to the bone by savage wounds, discoloured by the livid mottling of massive cell-trauma. Any of a dozen major injuries would have been sufficient on its own to kill him, as would his own attempts to channel and control the burning fire of the Force through his broken and exhausted body.

It doesn’t really matter any more.

His heart has stopped, his lungs crushed by the dead weight of blood and muscle around them. His lips are slightly parted, unnaturally still. They are turning blue, their frosty paleness contrasting with the darkening trail of dried blood which runs down his chin.

His eyes are open, but unseeing — blue, blank and glassy, blind to the ticking beam which switches back and forth across his face, and the golden light which burns behind it.

He is, in every way that matters, dead.

But even a dead body can react to certain stimuli.

At a word of command from Yal Phaath, the adepts stand back, and the Master Shaper himself stabs two spineray stingers through the cold flesh of Anakin's pectorals, sending a lightning-shock of energy surging through his mutilated body.

An electric shock is a crude, savage sort of stimulus, but it is straightforward and powerful enough that it can provoke a response from the complex, crippled electrochemical system of a human corpse.

Anakin’s body bucks on the slab, muscles spasming like living things. Dead neural pathways ignite, transmitting agony into the empty canyons of his mind, prompting a sudden storm of synaptic reactions. Most of it is simply arbitrary chaos, a rage of incoherent pain that would have overridden coherent thought if he still had thoughts to think.

But here and there, ironic sparks flash out simple messages in the darkness, and the stubborn neurons in his temporal lobes still try to distil the agony into memories.

As the pain fades, Anakin slumps back slackly on the slab.

Then, his eyelids twitch.

His lip trembles.

His chest rises, his lungs expand a fraction.

The flat lines of light which have been wavering in the holofield above the emitter maw of the monitoring vilip shiver, then flicker, then begin to pulse. They are joined by the artificial tic of a pacemaker scorpion’s tail and the sigh of oxygen bladders inflating and deflating. Gradually, sound and movement settle into a quiet symphony — a faint heartbeat, shallow breaths, low-level synaptic activity.

It is hard to know what precisely it is that has brought him back to life, or exactly when, or how, or why it happened.

Perhaps, ultimately, it was the pain itself.

Perhaps it would have been a mercy to leave him dead.

Yal Phaath and his team pause for a moment, then continue apace with their work. Before the end of the kett, they will have stripped their patient of everything that once made him Anakin Solo — everything that made him human.

In a way, his successful cardiopulmonary resuscitation by Yuuzhan Vong bioscience marks Anakin’s death in a way that the fatal trauma that killed him twenty-eight miniketts earlier never could.

He is still mostly dead. Key muscle groups and major internal organs have been damaged beyond repair. Only an extensive apparatus of grafts and symbiotes keeps his heart beating and his single intact lung breathing. He is helpless — less than a slave, less than an animal, less, even, than the sum of his parts — an aggregate of a few Vong-formed vital organs and viable muscle-groups, housed in the broken shell of a mangled human corpse.

Already, in Yal Phaath's mind, fundamental boundaries have been passed, and his patient has become a young Yuuzhan Vong warrior named Kunra Jamaane.

But, for all that, he is alive again.

Or perhaps, he is alive for the first time.

One day soon, he will thank the Shapers for it.



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