fate awaits us, I am not afraid as long as I am by your side.’
“I clasped her slender body to my chest. My beloved princess, the incomparable Nuya, Princess of Rubidium. I had to fight for many yads to gain her love, but now she had given it, she had given it to me completely. There was no hesitation or any sign of weakness that so often prevents women to follow their heart.
“‘Beloved Nuya,’ said I, ‘Whatever fate will throw at us, together we will master it.’”
Qar stopped her reading, and Anakin knew she sipped her tea. He had never expected that a simple act like drinking tea would be enough to raise the most violent feeling of envy in him. She was able to drink tea and he was not and would never be again. The feeling of envy was followed by one of anger with himself. So, he couldn’t drink tea, tough luck. He bloody well better get used to others doing things he could not, otherwise he would be such intolerable company that nobody would ever visit him.
“You know what I don’t understand,” Qar stated now, “why the hero of the story never falls in love with the plucky little maidservant who actually helps him and is nice to him. No, he always falls for the stupid - well, perhaps not stupid - for the stuck-up, too full of herself princess who despises him because he’s a commoner.”
Anakin had broken her out of the habit of just sighing volubly or muttering under her breath if she got annoyed with the book. Now she was venting her irritation loudly.
“No matter that she finally falls in love with him. She still thinks she is better than the rest of the world. It’s as if some normal person fell in love with one of those stupid Jedi bitches and then they figure out that he’s actually a Jedi, too, and so she falls for him. That still makes her think she’s greater then the rest of the population of the universe, it’s just that her loverboy now is in the club.”
Qar took another sip of tea, and continued reading. “Still holding the princess close to my heart I searched for an escape from the chamber of death.”
She did not expect him to comment on her outbursts, if he did she was happy, if he did not she just read on.
“My hand felt along the uneven stones of the wall, searching for an opening, a way to escape the gruesome death awaiting me and the Princess. Alone I would have laughed in the face of death, but I could not but shiver with terror at the thought of her beautiful body being torn to ribbons by the claws of the lanthans who were about to be released into the chamber.”
Since the appearance of the Warrior Princess Lo cin Sinerrah in the sixteenth chapter of the book, Qar had grown a lot more interested in the story, despite the fact that Pathe Warrick and therefore the hero of the tale did not appreciate women fighting out of ambition. By Chapter 23 - the chapter Qar was reading now, in which Safad Haad and his princess were once more caught in the chamber of death - Lo had been deposed by her treacherous cousin Ro and had joined forces with the Warlord of Warhoon.
“Is Lo going to save them?” Qar asked.
“You just have to read on,” Anakin told her.
“I bet she will,” Qar said, “she was not captured with them, so she can come and rescue the stupid Warlord and his stupid, simpering Princess.” She cleared her throat and continued reading. “We had crossed ten or eleven sids…”
Warrior Princess Lo was not going to safe them, Anakin knew. She was languishing in the same dungeons and would have to be saved by Safad Haad. Anakin did agree with Qar that Princess Lo was a fascinating character and the chapters of the trilogy which had her fighting alongside the Warlord were certainly the some of the most entertaining parts. Anakin had not had the heart to tell Qar yet that though Lo would regain the throne of Losserath she would be killed at the end of book two. But worse was to come. She was succeeded on the throne by her young son, Eyser, who was described as being a precocious child, but was in fact a truly irritating character. Young Eyser was the reason why Anakin had not read the third volume as often as the first two.
“‘My love,’ Nuya whispered in my ear, her voice trembling with fear.”
Anakin listened absent-mindedly to Qar’s voice, his thoughts still on the later part of the trilogy. The fact that Eyser was based on Pathick’s own son, Resey, a factoid that Lucas had once told him, only made matters worse.
Lucas had also told him that Young Eyser was actually introduced when the publishers had discovered that a third of the readers where under twelve. They had hoped that a major character of that was their age would give them somebody to relate to.
“I grabbed the monstrous animal by the ears, and it let out a terrified howl.”
However, the strategy seemed to have failed. Anakin had once discussed the ‘Warlord of Warhoon’ books with Nevoy’s seven-year-old son, Laram, who he had certainly not been impressed. In fact, Laram had called Eyser a stupid, pompous idiot, which coming from him was pretty harsh criticism.
Yolanda had been more outspoken and stated that Princess Lo should have strangled the brat at birth.
“I had discovered the way to tame those fierce creatures. - By all the hells,” Qar interrupted her reading. “In all the thousands of years before Safad Haad, nobody ever tried to pull a lathan’s ears?”
“Apparently not,” Anakin replied.
“Apparently not,” Qar sighed. “But then everybody on Warhoon seems to be slightly dimwitted.”
“Even the plucky little servant girl,” Anakin said, remembering only then, that the maidservant’s heroic but pointless death was in book two.
“What?” Qar asked.
“Book two, chapter 4,” Anakin replied, “you will find out when we get there.”
“How often have you read this?”she wanted to know
“I don’t know, quite often.”
“I have to say I still don’t like it, really,” Qar said. “It’s kind of compelling, I want to know what is going to happen, but it’s also really annoying, and I think once I’m through with it, I don’t want to read it ever again.”
Anakin did not reply, and after waiting for a while Qar continued her reading.
He wondered whether they were going to get beyond the death of Warrior Princess Lo, or whether Qar would be too disgusted. She probably would continue reading it, if he asked her to. She regarded it as part of her duty as his doctor to keep him entertained, to keep his mind off the horrible situation he was in.
He did wonder whether reading The Warlord of Warhoon was really a good way to ensure this. The fact that he knew it so well, knew what would happen, was comforting, but it also meant that he did not have to pay attention to what she read. He could let his mind drift and return to listen and know exactly what had happened when he was not paying attention. Perhaps they should pick something he did not know almost by heart to stop him from getting depressed about his situation. But he liked The Warlord of Warhoon. The mental images of the story unfolding in his mind automatically, pre-fabricated by his previous readings.
Anakin stared at the ceiling and suppressed a sigh. If he sighed, Qar would know he was not paying attention and then try to engage him in a conversation. Sometimes Anakin found it hard not to hate her. Why could she not leave him alone? Why should he not be morose? He had a right to be morose, given the circumstances.
But then, he never managed to be angry with her for long, since she was so obviously determined to help him, and she was funny, and intelligent and one of the few people around who did not squirm internally with horror when looking at him as most of the nurses and doctors did. He tried to ignore their emotions but when they were in such close proximity it was difficult, sometimes impossible.
Gods, he hated them all.
Now that was an entertaining question, which of the doctors did he hate most? Not Qar. He hated her intensely on occasion, but most of the times, he liked her.
Dr Olman tried too hard to please Qar. He obviously had a crush on her. Anakin felt slightly uneasy in his presence, since they had so unashamedly used him to get Saint-Martin arrested. Anakin knew as well as Qar that Saint-Martin had not attempted to kill Anakin with this force-suppressant drug. It had been a mistake made by a doctor whose special field was something else and who had been bullied into giving advice too quickly. When Anakin had told Qar this, after the scared Saint-Martin had been paraded before him, she had shrugged. ‘He tried to kill you before, so it’s just delayed justice.’
No, Anakin decided he did not hate Dr Olman or Dr Saint-Martin, for that matter.
Dr Berberov, now he was a likely candidate. His last operation on Anakin’s spine may have been a success, but it had left Anakin in excruciating pain for several days, despite the pain-killers he got. Moreover, it meant that his neck was fixated again and he could not move his head any more. All he could do, is stare at the same spot of ceiling.
Another possibility was Dr Polk. Anakin had only seen her a couple of times, but when Qar had called Dr Polk in for her expert opinion she had exuded an aura of annoyed impatience that even Qar had picked up. She had not made herself more popular to Anakin by her actions. She had consulted Qar’s notes, looked at his right foot and said. ‘That has to come off.’
“A great roar greeted us, when we entered the balcony. Cheering people were crowding the square,” Qar read.
So, Safad Haad and his Princess had escaped the dungeons. They still had to go back and rescue the Warrior Princess.
Anakin glanced at Qar to see whether she noticed he had not paid any attention. She sat hunched over the book, her mind obviously only on the story. Whatever she said, she did enjoy the book.
Anakin sighed, very quietly so the steady wheezing of the iron lung covered the sound. Here he was, a man with one hand and one foot. And still no replacement of either in sight.
Professor Cagliari had told him, he should be thankful they got the artificial liver in time. Otherwise he would be dead. Everything else could wait.
Anakin felt cold anger rise in him. That was the doctor he hated most, Professor Cagliari. Self-centred, conceited bastard. Behaving as if it had been his personal achievement that they got the artificial liver for Anakin. Yes, Cagliari was a capable administrator and had had the wisdom to put Qar in charge of Anakin’s treatment, but the professor was increasingly annoyed with all the problems Anakin’s presence caused his hospital. And with the rising cost of Anakin’s treatment.
What’s the point of buying a prosthetic foot for somebody who will never walk again, Cagliari had thought so loudly that Anakin had for a moment thought he had actually said it. Only the look of absolute fury on Qar’s face had stopped him from lashing out with the force. Somehow Qar’s anger had calmed him down.
‘We will see about that’, he had said, showing more confidence in his recovery than he felt.
The shock on Professor Cagliari’s face, when he realised that Anakin had replied to his thoughts, had been most satisfying.
The bitter fact remained that he would not walk again. Not only because he was now lacking a foot, but because his spine was too badly damaged. Even Qar had admitted that she could not think of a way to get him back on his feet again - ever.
And then, Cagliari had told Anakin, he should be happy he was still alive and count his blessings.
Counting his blessings did not take all that long. He was alive, he would, probably, regain the use of his arms and hands - if they ever got round to giving him the long promised artificial hand. He had Qar, who worked tirelessly to make him better and in between tried to keep him entertained. There was Diam who visited him and brought him presents. And that was it.
Counting his misfortunes had him come up with a much, much longer list. Just thinking of all the things he would never be able to do again could keep him occupied for hours:
He would never kiss his wife again, tasting of chocolate liqueur as she had that day on Astatin. He would never again wake up from a dream of being strangled to find that it was the weight of Shura’s arm across his neck that had caused the nightmare. He would never argue with her or watch her eat those gooey, sugar overloaded chocolate puddings she liked so much. He would never see her turn away from her work to give him that small mischievous grin that seemed to say ‘you just wait’. She would never again unbutton his uniform jacket or shout at him in her best barracks voice which she normally used to make the soldiers in her command quiver ‘Get your clothes off this second.’ He would never sleep with her again - or anybody else for that matter.
Anakin sighed again and quickly glanced at Qar, but she was still too wrapped up in the story to notice.
“I drew my sword, and shouting my challenge at the guards, charged them,” she read.
Still Chapter 23, and they were still in the dungeons of Zyberium.
Anakin thought of his own sword, his light-saber, and was about to ask Qar whether she had seen it among his belongings, when he remembered that he had left it behind when he fled Kenobi’s flat. His light-saber and his hand.
The memory of Kenobi’s light-saber slicing through his wrist came back to him with startling clarity. He had never thought it would hurt so damned much. He also had never thought he would ever be so terrified as he had been that moment when he knelt on the floor, cradling his severed wrist and staring Kenobi’s raised light-saber, the fury in his former teacher’s face. It had been like looking death in the eye.
What had Kenobi done with his lightsaber, Anakin wondered, and his hand. Thrown them in the waste-disposal? Or dropped them off in space somewhere?
At least, Anakin thought, Kenobi was on the run, too. He had gone into hiding the very next day. Which meant he would not have had time to take more than a few of his priced possession with him. What had been left of them after the duel in his living room in the first place.
Perhaps knowing that Kenobi was in hiding somewhere could be counted as a blessing, too.
Still, Anakin would much rather have his hand back. Hands were wonderful things and as with so many wonderful things, Anakin thought, one only appreciates them when they are gone. There were so many things one could use a hand for: opening beer bottles, brush teeth, write letters, switch on holo-pads, hold books, hold hands, hold a fork to eat, hold the steering rod of a ship.
They told him he would get a prosthetic hand. But even if this promise was ever realised and even if in time he would get back the use of his hands, he still would not be able to do most of these things. Why open a beer bottle, if you cannot drink the beer because your stomach is not working.
He would be able to switch on a holo-pad, and he just could imagine himself spending the rest of his life watching holo-soaps, news, holo-films. Watching other people’s lives because he did not have a life any longer.
The door to his room opened, and nurse Georgeson popped his head in. “Dr Hadasht.” He interrupting her reading just as Safad Haad was about to break into the cell where Warrior Princess Lo was held.
“Yes,” Qar said, turning around.
“There’s a call for you at the office,” Georgeson explained.
“Who is it?” Qar asked.
Georgeson shot a quick glance at Anakin and said, “I don’t know.” He withdrew his head before Qar could ask any further.
Goergeson did know, but he did not want Anakin to know. Anakin looked at Qar, who frowned at the open door. He wished they would not try to protect him from unpsetting news. Who on earth could call that they did not want him to know about?
“I’ll be right back,” Qar stated, and still clasping the book, walked out of the room.
The only news that could really upset him would be of Shura’s death. And he knew she was still alive and well. Since he had regained the full control over his abilities, he could sense her presence. It was a vague feeling, distant and ill-defined, but it was there all the time. Once he had tried to reach her, find out where she was and what she was going, but he had not been able to get closer to her. Her presence seemed to recede as he pursued it. She did not want him to find her.
Shura. Why did his thoughts always circle back to her? It wasn’t as if his life had consisted only of her. There had been more, his job as a pilot and then as a commanding officer, his friends, even his abbreviated career as a jedi.
Of course, just as he had lost Shura, he had lost all of these as well. He had lost his command, his friends were either dead or had better things to do than visit him, and his training as a jedi had been a waste of time and in the end had brought him here.
Anakin blinked as tears started to rise in his eyes. He felt disgusted with himself, dissolving again in self-pity. He should stop this train of thought right here and think of something else, even if it were different endings for The Warlord of Warhoon. Qar would certainly enjoy discussing possibilities of saving Warrior Princess Lo’s life.
No, she would not, since Lo’s death was still another volume and a half away.
Anakin thought of the time it would take Qar to finish the first book and read all of the second and it was just too long. Too much time, too many operations, too many hours spend lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and knowing this was it, the rest of his life. He knew that he would never ever take a bath again, be submersed in hot water, never go swimming in the sea again, never sit in a bar and drink with his friends, never fly a space ship again, never stare at the stars and wonder where he had been before, never eat dinner, never drink beer, never feel snow, ride on a bilty, run down a hallway, have sex, sleep on his stomach, have a hangover, stand at attention, sit on the floor, get undressed, shout at incompetent soldiers, have a shower, chew gum, and he would never smell anything else but this hideous machine smell of his breathing apparatus.
Never ever again.
He would spend the rest of his life, flat on his back in a hospital bed, listen to the obnoxious wheezing of the iron lung, stare at the ceiling and wait for somebody to come and entertain him.
This wasn’t life, it was not even a travesty of life, it was like being dead and buried while still conscious. And this would go on for years if not decades. And how long would anybody actually come to visit him? Qar would move on to a different patient, Diam would be too busy with his job, and then he’d be here all alone.
He could only hope that one day one of his vital organs would finally cease working and kill him. The problem was, they already had stopped working and he was still alive. These bloody machines kept him alive. They would do so forever. Every now and then, one of them would have to be fixed or replaced. Should any of his organs get any worse, they would remove or replace it, and he would still be here, stuck in this bed. Would he die at all with all these machines keeping his body alive? Wouldn’t he still lie here in eighty years time? Everybody he knew would be dead then, the war and its heroes only a dim memory. Nobody would visit him. Every few days a nurse would check his infusions. And he could stare at the ceiling and only the change of light would tell him that day after day went by.
Perhaps, if he was lucky, he would go insane.
Listening to this gods-damned iron lung would probably drive him out of his mind. Anger rose in Anakin, anger at this horrid machine with its constant, regular wheezing. He ought to throw something at it, use the force to ….
Suddenly, Anakin felt calm again, calm and determined.
If he had to spend the rest of his life here, crippled and bed-bound, he would make sure the rest of his life was very short.
He felt a little bit foolish that he had not thought of it before. The one thing that he had recovered was his control over the force and he would use it to end this abominable farce that his life had become. And he would do it now.
Anakin closed his eyes and took stock of his surroundings. The machines were working, the iron lung wheezing, Qar, he sensed was still in the doctors’ office, talking with somebody. He felt a brief pang of guilt for not having thanked her for her all she had done for him, tried to do for him, but it could not be helped.
Diam would be angry. Not least of all about the artificial liver he had spend so much time and money to acquire.
Anakin thought that he ought to have killed himself before they had had the time to waste an artificial liver on this wreck of a body.
All he needed to do, was shut down these bloody machines. His body had stopped working anyway, and soon he would be finally and blissfully dead.
The life-support machines were covered in dials and buttons, none of which Anakin had ever seen. To find out what they were doing would take too long, Qar would be back soon.
Anakin felt along the cables that connected the array of machinery to the sockets in the wall, and one by one he yanked the plugs out.
He could feel one machine after the other stopping, the monitor of his brain activities, the dialysis, the heart monitor, the machine controlling the infusions given to him, a computer which purpose he did not know, and, at last, the iron lung.
There was a last elongated wheeze and then silence.
Anakin felt like saying ‘thank the Gods’, but without the machine to move the air through his lungs he could not speak. But it did not matter anymore.
He lay in his bed and enjoyed the silence. No bloody iron lung, no bloody machines, and not a single small sound his own body made. His body was dead already.
After a moment a strange, constricted sensation crept into his body, up his throat and into his nose. Some part of him must be urging him to breathe, but he could not, would not.
Holding his eyes firmly closed, he felt a odd dizziness, as his brain was slowly dying of oxygen deprivation.
Then the door opened and Qar came back in. “Here I am…,” she began and stopped at once.
Anakin wished he had enough energy or concentration to feel what she was thinking, but everything began to be blurry. He could hear her scream. The sound seemed to recede, like the noise of a ship roaring away into the distance.
A strange elation overcame Anakin. He had made it. He was finally going to die.
With a loud, unpleasant sucking noise the iron lung started again.
He felt a hard thud as his heart began beating.
The constant murmur of blood running through his veins started again, audible to him after the silence.
There was a tapping noise from somewhere to his left and Qar said, right into his ear. “What was that about?”
Anakin opened his eyes and stared at her face.
For a moment he was speechless, not only because his body was still recovering from the brief moment it had stopped living and his brain was still foggy, but also because he could not believe the sheer stupidity of the question.
Anger welled up in him. ‘What was that about?’ How could she ask such a question? Of all the people, Qar should know how horrible and hopeless his situation was. But she looked as if she had no idea of what had happened to make the machines stop.
He wanted to lash out at her, release at her the terrible anger and despair and make her feel what it was like to be stuck in this wrecked body. He wanted her to suffer as he did, he wanted to kill her.
No, he corrected himself. He did not want to kill her. He wanted to kill himself.
And he still could. She would not be able to stop him.
All he had to do was to direct the anger he had wanted to throw against her at his own body. Shutting his eyes again, he concentrated on the Force, gathered it to himself, using all the anger at Qar, the despair about his situation, the frustration and fear.
If anger, despair and fear were the path to the Dark Side as Kenobi had tried to tell him, Anakin wondered, was committing suicide also forbidden to a good Jedi?
He felt the force, pulled it into himself and then, instead of throwing it against Qar, he let it burst out of his body.
An explosion of pain shot through his body and then there was nothing.
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