The first three days were the worst.
Quinn wouldn’t stop screaming when he wasn’t soaking in sedatives, and the only person he called out for was Staci. When she would go to him, he would cling to her like a drowning man, and mutter incoherent rabble about space and a man coming to find them.
None of it made any sense.
After that, he calmed down a little, but when one of Madine’s aides mentioned Chandra, it set him off again on a fresh bout of madness. The psychs had to put him under in the end.
After seven days, he seemed to mellow; he cried less and less, and eventually asked for real food and a bath. They found him outside of the city limits; he had knocked out one of his caregivers when they brought the bathing basin and snuck out in his clothing. When the authorities caught up and took him back, he was as mad as ever.
By the third week he had clamped down; no emotional response, not even to Staci who never left his side. He would stare for hours at the blank, white wall, breaking contact only to regard those who came or went. He said nothing outside of occasionally snorting in disbelief.
By the fourth week he had escaped again, though the exact method remains unclear.
Staci took it badly. Whatever toll insanity had taken on Quinn, Staci seemed determined to bear what she saw as her fair share. She hardly slept, hardly ate; and almost never left the small viewing room that looked in on Quinn. Crash had pleaded with her to come home, even for a night, but she let it roll off her back with practiced calm and utter focus.
She had called her father’s droid Lynx, and managed to secure the use of some of Hellhaven’s wondrous technology. Quinn escaped on the ship and nearly killed a guard, but they managed to get him to the ground.
Crix Madine spared no expense on the procedures. He flew in the greatest psychological minds in the galaxy to look in on Quinn. When they didn’t have an answer, he tried to bring a Jedi who had trained under Luke Skywalker to assess Quinn’s mental state, but upon entering a trance, the young man reeled back from Quinn like a repellant, and the blood drained from his features.
“What?What is it?” Staci asked.
“I – I cannot help that man…”
He had left without so much as a word, and Skywalker inquired later, wondering where the student had gone.
They never saw him again.
After that, the Jedi stayed away, the Psychs stayed away; Quinn lingered like his ship had in perpetual limbo, a river of high quality anti-psychotics keeping him sane enough to sleep while Staci wasted away at his bedside.
It was like fire, like poison, like acid rain; pain unimaginable when the words broke past sealed lips like a burst dam.
Two months passed.
“Are you sure this will work?”
Crix scowled, as if the thought process was physically painful. “No, but it’s all we have left.”
Staci sighed. “I still don’t get it.”
The technicians were floating around Quinn like ghosts; gently attaching thin threads of wire to his head and snapping hard lines into place; the apparatus looming over him and snaking down into his skull like a deranged sea creature.
“I don’t either; but I get the gist.” Madine rubbed his temples with his thumb and index finger. “From what I can gather, its an amped up droid brain that makes hyper accurate readings of the human brain, breaking the thought process into a digital interface like a computer.”
“So it’s treating Quinn like an AI?”
“No I’m just making sure; so Quinn is a fucking robot now?”
“He’s not a robot; its just interpreting his-”
“-Oh yeah right Crix-”
“This is a fucking braindance and I wont have Quinn-”
The training yanked her from the shade of independence and into the harsh light of military command structure as Staci snapped to attention.
“You are not a licensed psychologist, is that correct?” Madine was so close he nearly touched his nose to hers.
“FURTHERMORE, you are not qualified to make medical diagnosis of the patient, is that also correct?”
“Yes, sir.” She gritted out with short breaths.
“Then you will defer your own personal assessment, by your own admittance not one of expertise, to those better suited, am I clear?”
She moved her eyes to lock with his.
“This is a mistake, sir.” She whispered.
The stone fell from Madine’s face like water, and he softened to a man once more. “Maybe.” He sighed. “But this is our last option. Quinn is the only person known to have survived Chandra. I have sent a dozen scouts and three warships into the system; not one has come out with anything other than ‘unexplained nightfall disaster.’ The planet is just wrecked, dead. A billion lives snuffed out like a candle. Whatever is locked away in Quinn’s mind I would know. I must know.”
Staci looked down and relaxed her features.
The logic was simple enough; the human brain could not be fully digitized, but it could be interpreted through the same messy lines of code that drive droid minds and artificial intelligence. If the droid brain could see Quinn’s thought process as a digital interface, it might be able to pick out the moments of trauma and surgically flush them away, or at least make the memories less impacting.
It was heavy science.
The tech was born out of Harlan Mavericks celestial paradise and parented by some of the greatest scientific minds of the age. It was something used only on governing entities or the hyper wealthy, and then to only marginal effect. What was more, when the initial scan of Quinn’s brain had been fed back through the machine, it read like a nightmare. Quinn’s usual schizophrenic attitude that made him an amazing covert operative and sometimes career criminal also left a pretty messy way of thinking, and the machine was stretching its capacity to mold Quinn’s erratic makeup into it’s own world view.
But the doctors said they were optimistic. Madine had asked them not to erase anything, but to sweep up the bad memories so they were no longer bleeding into his frontal lobe and replaying the nightmare that Chadra must have given him over and over again.
If the surgery could cram those poisonous experiences into the detached piece of Quinn’s brain that until now was legendary for dumping emotions he felt while in character, then his sanity might be saved.
If not, then he was going to live in a mental institution for the rest of his life, and Chandra would remain in perpetual seclusion, while the doom that ate it’s surface raw was trapped forever by the black gulf between planets.
“I’m going to get a drink.” Staci slouched away from the viewport like a rag doll.
“I’ll join you.” Madine started to make a move of his own, but Staci’s laconic stare stopped him short.
“No offense sir, but right now you are the last person in the black I want to share a drink with.”
“And the first person?” Madine asked, eyeing Crash away down the hall past Staci’s left shoulder. She took the hint and backed away.
“I don’t know,” she said, pressing her palm into Crash’s when he waked up. “You’ll have to ask him when he wakes up.”
Madine smiled and then turned back towards Quinn and his caretakers. They were turning on the machine.
The sand was red and wet with the blood of the dead and dying. Chandra’s sky lit like the heart of a collapsing star; wild folds of energy melting into each other and not mixing right, hard shadows and partical radiation bathing everything and shimmering sickly.
The tomb was yawning open before Quinn, and his hands were sunk in the bloody red sand to the elbow. He was in there, waiting in the cold and that dark inside the tomb.
Melkin had torn out his own jugular with his massive alien claws. The republic spec ops team had done all it could to extract Quinn and his covert squad before –
Blood welled up and vomited from the tomb, and bloated bodies were carried away on the tide. Quinn had felt the same terror that the rest had, the urge to end his own life as soon as possible, to get out at all cost.
It had slipped away like wet ropes of human flesh, smearing his conscious like blood and trailing a cold fear that had him shaking on the wet ground.
He threw up, he tried to pull at the strings of sentient thought. Around him, the extraction team was blowing itself to pieces, screaming in the flood of emotion and drowning on their own despair. They were putting blaster through their own heads, screams that seemed to tear down the beach like waves; the burning sky and the well of human anguish smashing together at the the open tomb.
It wasn’t a voice, wasn’t a need; it was a black gout of emotion; a fountain of longing and despair. Quinn’s blaster stank of the acrid vomit he had just covered it in, the custom trigger tugging at his conscious mind like a lover.
Die. Make the wheel stop, make the torture end. He tried to think of a way out, tried to find a reason to live, but his memories were shredding, dissipating like smoke. What was her name? What was his name?
It thrummed at him, the subsonic pounding eradicating his thought, as if nothing good could exist here, even in memory.
He grasped the blaster and wet rivers of mercury tricked down his face in open mouth sobs.
The tomb was swimming with death.
Check the load. There you go.
He pressed the blaster to his soft pallet and suck in the despair that had consumed the rest.
The blaster fell with a wet smack, and the tide seemed to pull back.
With the effort of creation, he clung to the single mote of sunlight the name brought with it, grasping hard, and as the world died around him, Quinn pulled himself slowly up the beach.
He was sitting on the same bench that Mav liked to sit at and watch the sky go dark. In the evening, stars winked to life across the purple sky, and Hellhaven’s vengeful angels hung silently above the celestial creation.
The seas churned with the orbitals weight, and if Quinn had heard her approach, he wasn’t showing any sign of it.
“Hey.” She sad quietly. Quinn didn’t move.
The doctors had shaved him and bathed him, fixed his rotten yellow teeth and brought much of the color back to his face. The drugs had him put on a little more weight so that he looked like a shade of his former self. Even his eyes looked better. Distant, perhaps, and cold, but devoid of the madness that once radiated from them like starlight.
“Can I sit down?”
He looked at her then, as if reeling back from someplace beyond the horizon, and tilted his head downwards, a rough approximation of a ‘yes.’
They sat in silence for a while, only roar of the sea crashing into the cliffs bellow moving the breeze about and refusing to let any sense of calm coalesce in the space between them.
Suddenly, she couldn’t take it anymore. Turning her slim frame on the bench, she look at his profile with pleading eyes.
“Quinn… please say you’re okay.”
Slowly, with a reverence for time he met her gaze, and she saw how hollow he really was.
“Who is Quinn?” He muttered sadly.
Her heart broke. Tears welled up and fell in sheets over her trembling face. It had failed utterly, his mind had been shattered by the –
He almost had her.
Staci slapped him and beat her fists into his arm and shoulder “You nerf herding sone of a bitch! DON’T DO THAT!”
Quinn was smiling now, laugher spilling from the old wound. “Haha okay okay ouch! I’m – hey okay I’m sorry.”
He was gripping for her wrists to stop the beating, but now he had her hand in his, and when they locked eyes, she let the feeling build itself into a small moment of sunlight.
“You had me worried. I’ve… I’ve never seen you like-”
“Yeah.” He said, pulling away and tucking his arm under the blanket that draped him. “Well, then you’ve never been to – to Chandra.”
She jumped; in the past two months the word had gathered a mythology around it like a religious invocation; it just wasn’t said, although everybody thought it.
He said it like he was taking a spool filled with poison.
“We don’t have to rush anything, Quinn. It can wait if you like. We have all the time you need.”
“Stace, look I know you’re in mother mode right now but honestly, I’m okay.” She cocked her eyebrow at him. “No, I know seriously,” he smiled “I mean it. Whatever those docs did, it – I dont know it feels like just another roll, another lie mixed with all the rest. Sure I’m a little more… ragged than I usually am after a job but, really I’m okay.”
“What happened?” The question fell like weights hitting duracrete. She had wanted to ease into it, to make it sound less eager but the truth was, all anyone had wanted to know for more than half a year was what happened, and the question was spring loaded.
Quinn painted on a slow smile. “What always happens, Stace? What always, always fucks us in the end? The same thing that started most of the wars we’ve ever fought as a spices, as a fucking galaxy. Hell, I spoke with the docs and they all slid their gaze away from the answer with the practiced avoidance of the human condition. Did it really not occur to you all this time?” He was looking at her, his brow furrowed in a kind of sustained anger.
“I- well we had theories; a biological agent, maybe a new weapon from the revolutionaries?”
Quinn actually laughed, and shook his head back out to the sea.
“Close, I guess. It was the revolutionaries, but thats the whole thing; everybody already had the disease, they just had to flip the switch.”
“Quinn, what are you talking about?”
“Religion, Staci. What killed us all was firm fucking belief in the same thing that got us all into this mess in the first place.” He wheeled on her, and the fire that to Staci was a warning that Quinn was either dangerously drunk or set on the warpath was kindling rapidly in his eyes.
“You mean-” the knowledge hit her like a docking clamp.
“Yeah.” Quinn gritted out. “The Jedi. The fucking Jedi did it.” He hugged his blanket closer. “And they’re going to do it again.”
In the night sky, an orbital light up the dark with thin strands of hyperspace, and they could only assume that up in that darkness, something died.