Once A Warrior, Part IX Rating: PG
ThrawnMcEwok

Not awake, not asleep. Not alive, not dead. No longer Anakin Solo, no longer human, but not yet anything else.

No longer even capable of conscious thought ...

The sensory apparatus has been physically stripped from his frame, nerves flayed and severed — mind and body, self and universe, have folded inwards into a well of darkness — deeper, darker, more inescapable than any death.

A random storm of agony represents the totality of existence, undifferentiated into thought and feeling, mind and body, pain and pleasure, light and dark, action and reaction.

There are some advantages to this complete nullification of everything that was once Anakin. Here, there can be no sense that this chaos used to be him, still less that he was once part of a wider world, a Galaxy now conquered and broken by the Yuuzhan Vong; a flicker of light and life, vastly more complex than the snarl of pain he is now, and even then only one dancing being among the countless infinities of the Force.

The snarl of pain is fortunate not to know that he is a prisoner, a slave, a laboratory specimen; not to understand that he is being remade as a Yuuzhan Vong.

Anakin Solo — when that name still had any meaning — would have despaired of what he has become, what he is becoming.

What was once his body is kept alive by grafted symbiotes and surgical interventions, mutating, changing, transforming, becoming the body of the warrior named Kunra.

Where his thoughts should be, there is only the raging madness of synapses firing, like lightning in a storm-clenched sky. The only coherent pattern is that of the neural piledriver laying the foundations of his new identity, physically programming in basic Yuuzhan Vong thought-patterns — transmitted from the damutek's qahsa by interface creatures socketed through trepanned holes in his skull and grafted connections between his bared vertebrae.

The biocomputer works calmly and methodically, modifying neurons and lacing together new bioelectric circuits without any thought for what it might be doing to what was once another living being.

The semi-sentient mind of the damutek has no reason to even begin to question its approach. It perceives Anakin's brain as no more than another adjunct of its own neural net.

It's just as well for Anakin's memory that that's pretty much the truth.

If this was still Anakin Solo, then he would know that he was being destroyed by the same protocols which were used to shape Tahiri Veila — his best friend, his lover, his ...

For a moment, something like a thought threatens to form. A dagger-flash of memory, a glint of green.

Pain destroys it before he can begin to understand.

Not awake, not asleep. Not alive, not dead. A whisper of breath, like the swish as a blade kisses open a cut, the rasp of air in a flayed throat.

And then, the pain returns to an acceptable level.

The clarity is sudden, surprising. It is as though someone has twisted a dial, and turned down the volume on a comm channel shot apart by static.

For a moment, I am simply struck dumb by my weightless sense of self.

I can hear. The tizowyrm must be back in my ear.

I can see. Some sort of feed. Probably implants clipped to my optic nerves. Master Phaath exchanged his own eyes for those glowing implants, didn't he?

I learn to make sense of this new sensory experience. I'm in the vivarium — bone, muscle, hard to say where I end and the apparatus holding me together begins. I can see the shadows, the taut tympanum of the membrane. Beyond that ...

For a moment, I am overwhelmed by surprise and confusion. By light. The spectrum is green-shifted — or rather, the light is green, filtered starlight and the fire of Myrkr's sun, lensed through the chlorophyll-rich membranes of the damutek. But to whatever has replaced my eyes, the interior of the damutek is a riot of colour — livid blues and reds and yellows, the stony grey-blue of the deck, the rubbery gleam of the transparent jars and tanks, the hard pearl or bone of the structural ribs and the little dishes containing the knives they used to cut me apart.

Wow.

My corpse looks pale in comparison. Uninteresting. Drab.

Someone wants me to see this. After a few moments of puzzlement, I work out that the moving, shifting sworls of colour moving around the room are people. Three are tall, humanoid — Yuuzhan Vong. The fourth is slighter, with a simian beak, feline whiskers, corkscrew antennae.

Vergere.

Vergere saved Mara, with her tears. Vergere came to Myrkr, aboard a Yuuzhan Vong frigate with Nom Anor.

Vergere is in the damutek, with Nom Anor, looking at my dead body with an inscrutable expression.

My dead body?

Oh.

In the silent pause that follows, I wonder if the numbness I feel is simply the inner reflex of my lack of any ability to frown, or blink, or wince, or grimace.

I look at the corpse on the table again.

Yep. Definitely me.

"Ah, the Solo brat," Nom Anor smiles. "I was worried he might still be alive."

"The boy is dead," Yal Phaath says, glancing from Nom Anor to Vergere. I hear a blunt truth in his words, paradoxically indisputable. "Not even your tears could save him, Vergere."

Vergere folds her arms across her chest, and looks at him, slightly cross.

It's not because she thinks I'm dead. It's because he's just insulted her. As a Master Shaper, in his professional judgement, she's less of a hot-shot than she thinks she is.

"You're sure?" she asks, smiling to disguise her mood. "You know what Jeedai can be like, I'm sure, Master Shaper. He didn't have any interesting relics on him, did he? You do know how our leaders like their trophies."

"He was armed," the shaper nods. "Only with this."

Yal Phaath hands her a steel cylinder, scratched and dented, and I see the opposable fingers of Vergere's claw closing round the haft of my lightsaber. She looks at it, and then, as she hooks it to her belt, she glances, almost casually, at the vivarium.

Behind the darkened membrane, behind the wall of ysalamiri.

She's not looking at me. She looks straight through me.

She frowns, and I feel relief. She can't see me.

She thinks I'm dead.

"A pity," she remarks, her feather crest ruffling, flattening to grey. "Still, he was expendable. We will use the corpse as a lure."

"That will work?" Nia Phaath asks, nervousness giving her voice.

"Oh, they'll find a way," Nom Anor sighs. "You can count on that."

"It will work," Yal Phaath says, with absolute conviction. "The infidels will attempt to prevent us from honouring his body. They cannot allow us to show the Galaxy that his death was a statement of our truth."

"You're taking the boy to the Great Antrum?" Vergere asks, a solicitous look on her face. "Is that wise."

Yal Phaath looks at her, his eye-implants gleaming.

"Yes," he says. "Why not?"

"Oh, well," she shrugs, pretending it means nothing — or perhaps pretending she's only pretending it's not important. "If you insist."

"I do," the Master Shaper answers, suddenly firm. I wonder if Vergere sees how different his tone and posture are now from how they were a moment ago when he offered her the bald statement of my death — and if so, if she understands what that contrast means. "He was a warrior. He died with honour. We should honour that. It is something that all — Yuuzhan Vong, slave and infidel alike — can understand."

Nom Anor shifts slightly on his feet, but doesn't disagree.

For a moment, a look of pure malice creases Vergere's expressive, simian face, and a star of surprise flares in my mind, overriding my initial, knee-jerk reaction of No, I was just a dumb kid.

Wow.

Vergere wanted me dead.

Master Shaper Yal Phaath just saved my life.



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