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[Fiction] Ashnod - Catharsis


Jager

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[non-canon]

There are two dangers in this. One, the obvious one, is the chance that it will not be mastered properly, thus damaging the both the Quantum Body and the confidence of the believer. The second one is that we will forget that this is unknown ground, there is no right and wrong in this, and we are grabbing a hold of an evolutionary force we do not full comprehend.

- from the diaries of Caroline Fong

It was reaching, no doubt about it. She knew it and that is why she had {deleted} with her as she reached out on this latest personal quest. Slipping between time streams was not an endpoint for her. It allowed her to explorer the workings of Time; to envision and make whole her will over time from a parallel perspective, and to experience the unforeseen consequences of her manipulations. She did know it was a bridge, though. It was yet another step from co-current possibilities to a true mastery of temporal reality. It was not as if she had an agenda, but the sense that this was part of the journey she had taken herself on … to know that it could be done, and that she could do it.

Like every step into the unknown, there is the chance of missteps and she had found a terrible one. She felt the flow reaching out beyond her grasp then a savage back snap against her will. She felt that backlash of corrupt possibilities and she grabbed hold of them, even as she experienced their influence upon her. She felt the concurrent temporal fluctuations and suddenly felt {deleted} erased from her history … just like that. In that moment of fear, that terribly cruel image forced upon her mind, she let fear take hold and something went horribly wrong.

Ashnod awoke with the rain falling down upon her face. She tried to start into a sitting position, but found she could not. The rain kept falling upon her face and she lay there, paralyzed. She could not sense {deleted} by her side. Panic rose. She couldn’t sense anybody and she felt naked before the world, terrified and alone. This passed quickly, though, as he once more forced her will upon her internal existence. She felt broken rock against her back. It had the coarse texture of brick, concrete, and shattered wood. She was in a residential area, not her home, and a massive amount of destruction had been brought here. The rain tasted of ash and bitter … a great fire had happened. The clouds obscured the sun, but she knew it was day and her internal clock told her it was late morning, even though it was as dark as dusk. She focused upon the known even as he puzzled over her ‘blindness’. Oh, she could see, but only with her eyes, her tongue, and her ears … everything else about her was eerily quiet.

She heard the crunch of gravel beneath a foot. It wasn’t a football, but someone shifting their weight. A face came into view. It was annoying and a bit disconcerting that he could come so close without being detected.

“Jager, what have you done?”

He looked shocked and a bit surprised. She stored that rare insight away.

“Me? I didn’t start this Protean girl. I believe you came here for me?”

That non sequitur she also stored away.

‘Good,’ she thought, ‘I’m not in … my place.’

“I …”

Jager held up his hand to quiet here.

“I know … or, I know that something is different about you now. I figure you have somehow become unhinged temporally.”

Something grabbed his attention and he held up his hand to quiet her. Before he stood up, he tilted Ashnod’s head slightly to the side and then walked in that direction.

Her head shifting was an easy movement, but unusual for its lack of control.

Jager walked only a few feet away and knelt on one knee to the ground and knelt over another figure on the ground. The figure … it was a girl she could tell, lay half-buried in rubble. Ashnod couldn’t hear much over the patter of rain on the stone and bricks that surrounded them. Ashnod’s eyes could make out the girl’s labored breathing and she half-expected Jager to rescue her. Instead, he did nothing but observer her. For over a minute, Jager hovered over her like some predatory bird, or vulture, yet he did nothing and the girl kept fighting for each breath. Each one became harsher and it was clear to Ashnod, even though she couldn’t sense her life-signs, this was a battle the girl was losing. She finally broke the quiet.

“Why don’t you do something? Kill her; put her out of her misery, or save her. Do something.”

Jager cocked his head in Ashnod’s direction.

“No. She doesn’t want me to.”

Ashnod stared at him, clearly in disbelief.

“She doesn’t want my help, Ash. Once, long ago, she told me that and those are words we both have to live with now. We don’t always get the chance to say what we mean, what we want, or what we have left unsaid. Sometimes we are left with what we have said and then it’s too late.”

Jager brushed some wet strands of hair from the girl’s eyes. The girl responded, chocking on the blood seeping insider her lungs and Goddess’ knows what else. She was trying to speak, say something, but that capacity was no longer hers.

“So, you are just going to let her die?”

“No. I’m going to respect her wishes, Ash. I’m going to let her live her life her way. Good or bad, it is hers.”

Ashnod stared unblinking at him.

“What do you expect me to say? I don’t know what’s best for her, so I have to trust her to do what’s best for her. If it doesn’t turn out well then it doesn’t. If I don’t respect her, and her choices, then what have either one of us been doing all this time? No. If she finds a way to live, she lives … and if not, she dies.”

Ashnod blinked.

He hates me. He hates me? He hates me! How dare he.

Ashnod stands in the Old North Church, staring at him, staring at those hate-filled eyes, staring at that little man, this youngster in old man’s clothes, and she doesn’t understand.

Oh, she can understand his reactionary, baseline-thinking ways, but there is something about that hate directed at her that causes her to lash out.

She threatens him, or more appropriately, threatens him with powerlessness and retaliation if he defies her, her wishes, and follows his own way and the desires of his baseline masters.

Still, how can someone she doesn’t even know, hate her so much? It is a tiny grain of sand that refuses to be brushed away.

It’s dark and they are grabbing her. She knows this place … this defining moment … so well. Here she awakened, in the pain and violence of that moment as they hold her down, breathe their foul breath onto her, penetrate her, and violate her. She has relived that moment of her awakening many, many times … and the other car pulls up.

There has never been another car.

No one comes here, ever. She is alone, attacked then abandoned. No one ever comes.

The lights flash with the familiar highway patrol patter. Someone gets out, puts on their hat and approaches from the far side of her attackers. They are suddenly confused, disoriented, and uncertain. She can not see it, but she knows its going to happen. The gun comes out, the man shouts out with both rage and authority. The men stagger back. Preston walks into the headlights of his police cruiser.

It isn’t Preston but it is. It is someone like him. A man from whatever background, but someone who has come to the same path, the same beliefs, and this has brought him here.

Preston’s eyes hold that hate, but it isn’t for her. It’s for them. It’s for anyone who would prey upon the weak and the vulnerable.

She is not alone. She feels his hand upon her shoulder, pulling her away from them while he keeps them covered. The hand is comforting and firm … confusing in her flood of memories … because he isn’t there. No one is.

She hears the voice speaking in the TV-familiar manner of a cop calling for help. Part numbers, part words, he is calling others here in the calm, but not dispassionate manner of his kind.

She is crying, but not totally for the reasons he thinks. It is the confusion of this alternity battering at her mind, trying to be real.

Help does arrive. She is not alone. Others gather around and tend to her. She is sitting in the back of the paramedic’s vehicle when she sees him come around to her. He looks into her eyes and she knows he isn’t seeing a victim, or someone fragile or weak. He is seeing her in all the myriad complexities that have brought her here. She looks into those eyes and sees something she so rarely sees. He holds a deep compassion for her, from one person to another. There is no weighing of sin, or guilt in those eyes, but some kind of humane validation that is difficult to put words to. Not so much a ‘you will be okay,’ but ‘you will survive and life will go on’ belief that binds living things together.

He speaks then,

“Miss, if you need anything … anything at all, do not hesitate to call me.”

He hands her his card and she finds herself nodding.

She sees him getting out of the car, but she knows it’s different. The men, there is something different about them. There is an aspect to them she has never seen before. She wants to cry out to Preston, to warn him, because she knows what these men are. This is not an evil accident of fate. It is yet another string in her life, being pulled and played by the same people that have played her entire life up until now. They are operatives and he is just some dumb cop. Wrong place; wrong time and all that. It isn’t as if he really has a chance. Still, he comes on.

The first man moves around her car, splitting Preston Not-Preston’s attention. She sees him hesitate, reassess the situation and for a split second she prays that he will back away. He does not, because he can not. She is in need and he has to go on. Somewhere, deep in his countenance, she sees him facing his death and he does no shirk. She is in need and he must go on.

The man brings up his gun up from behind his back and fires three, quick, muffled shots into Preston. He goes slamming back against the door of his car and starts sliding out of her view. A shot rings out, or will, and the first man will/does go cart wheeling back.

The man’s right eye has been blown out, along with a good portion of his brains and skull. Preston is dead, or will be soon. The other two men are moving quickly now. Gone are their provincial behaviors and drunken mannerisms. They are professionals and she knows one day she will realize that.

She wills Preston to stay down, to treasure the last few minutes of life he has left, and to think about his wife and infant son, but she also knows he will not. She does not know his mind, but she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that all he is thinking of is her. All he can do is get up and come to her, because she is someone in need. So, he gets back up, feebly, pulling himself up on the door. He still has his gun out, but it is in the hand resting upon the door’s open window. His left is pressed up against the neck wound that is killing him. He looks at them as they come on. Without preamble, another man puts a close shot into Preston’s forehead, shutting down those hate-filled eyes, while the third man checks on his dead associate. Preston isn’t going to give her a card now. He isn’t going to try and re-connect her to the human species. He isn’t going to be there for anyone else, ever again.

“He’s dead,” calls out the third man. “We had better call this in.”

The second man comes back toward Ashnod and she can see through her own pain that everything has changed.

“Stay focused,” Jager is telling her. “I can feel something resonating down the line. Just stay focused.”

“The girl,” she asks.

“Still with us,” he replies. “I think she would rather have me over here with you, anyway. She came here for you, or so that’s how it came down. She believes in you.”

“I don’t even know her.”

“We don’t exist in a vacuum, Ash. Our actions, not matter how individual, have consequences.”

She despises him for that pap then it dawns on her that this is his intent.

“Who?”

“Yes?”

“You said you felt a resonance.”

“{deleted} … {deleted}, I believe. It feels like her … or the way she was, anyway.”

Ashnod couldn’t sense anything, which was both frightening and annoying.

There doesn’t seem anything left for them to say and there is an uncomfortable silence shared by those who have shared a passion for another.

“It’s okay,” Jager begins. “I’m glad that she is happy. It’s all that I wanted and the hurt fades over time.”

“No regrets about the way you treated her, the way you were with her?”

Jager cracks a grime-faced smile. This is the first time she can remember him being dirty. He is usually such the White Knight.

“I would be lying if I said I wish it was me instead of you, but in the end, I couldn’t be someone she could live with and she wasn’t going to accept me as I am. We were both adults and happiness wouldn’t be treasured if it wasn’t so rare.”

“… Wasn’t so rare? You really are full of shit sometimes, Jager.”

“Yeah,” he grins again, “I know.”

“Then why do you do it?”

“Passion, Ash. I believe in passion. I don’t believe in us or them, but I could never get you to see that. Remember, first last and always … we must be who we are … all of us, and we must do so passionately. Even if it means that some of us are heroes. I wish I had been able to tell you that. I wish you had seen that we can be heroes if we need to be … not because any of us must be … none of that power = responsibility crap, but because we can be.”

Jager shakes his head.

“We are not their playthings, Jager. We are not their demons, or saviors. We … We’ve been down this road a lot haven’t we?”

“Yeah … just like old times.”

“Old times” … she looked down at the screen. The story, she could recall, was almost done. She looked about the room, cluttered with comfort items and an endless series of books. Some … only a few … she had written. Some under pseudonyms, some … her more recent works … under her own name, but they all contained a tiny part of her. She could here her partner in a nearby room and the rich aroma of her favorite brand of coffee wafted into her writing niche. She was happy here.

Still her mind and soul revolted. She wasn’t a nova here. There were no novas here at all. The quantum was so stayed, so calm, as to be stifling. To this world, magic and reality-twisting were just concepts to be written about. No one lived their dreams in that way here.

Inside, Ashnod screamed.

The sand felt warm beneath her toes even as the sun’s last ways failed behind her. She was still screaming. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she knew why. Her daughter was dead … not Apep, but the daughter she had raised, and loved, and known so well at every step. Everything they had stolen from her, she had recaptured in this child and now she was dead.

Apep wasn’t here. There had existed a gulf between her and her new sister. The love that the younger one got, and the older one had been denied, stood between them. It was only another debt she owed those how had taken so much of her life.

She screamed at the sands, twisting some into tiny rocks and others into glass splatters. Flowers bloomed, withered, and turned to dust in the blink of an eye. Small beetles were born, died, and turned back into the desert sands from which they had come just as fast. Life and Death joined in a moment in Time.

“I … can’t … take … this … anymore.”

“What?”

She blinked up at Jager.

“The pain, Jager. The constant pain they etch into my heart. I lose them, or they are stolen away from me and I don’t know how to stop it.”

She regretted saying that to Jager the moment it escaped her lips.

He stared at her for a few moments before replying.

“Loved ones and children,” Jager muses. “When you have children, Ashnod, you are making a statement of your commitment to the future. You are investing effort into what’s to come. You can’t be detached from it all and still have children, especially if you are a nova.”

“You’re an icon as well as a mother. Think about what that is like. To be your daughter, protected and nurtured from the past … your past, but it also denies them the world. You didn’t raise her in a closet, but you raised her based on so much of what went wrong with your life.”

Jager raises a hand to delay Ashnod’s response.

“Yes, you enjoy a special danger most of us don’t face. It doesn’t change the fact that she will … did … hunger for the world you denied her. She naturally came looking for those who would give her that. Children grow up and grow away as they do so. If we are lucky, they come back in their own time. I know, and it’s tough. You need to have faith in them for that … and pray you have the time for it to all work out.”

“You don’t know, Jager, not really.”

Jager cocks his head sideways.

“Of course I don’t,” he responds with exasperation, “of course I don’t.”

“Let’s dance,” he says.

“I didn’t come here to dance,” she replies.

There is that momentary pause,

And then they are dancing.

Time bends around both of them.

Time, space, and flesh all become obstacles that flow around them with ease. They dance and are one in that infinite instance and only part when the mutually agree they are done. She sees herself reflected in his eyes and he seems to be expecting something. She shakes her head at the lost opportunities between them and misses the disappointment in his eyes.

This time, there is something there that she had missed. Some sort of understanding that is too easy to ignore, because she knows him.

Doesn’t she?

Time is slipping away from her and she feels herself losing focus as more and different realities slip past her. Everything seems so tinted with sadness and grief. Lost understandings, ruined relationships, death and abandonment.

“What’s wrong with me,” Ashnod asked Jager, a hint of desperation in her voice.

“You’re dead. No, not ‘you’re dying and going to die, but you’re really dead. I killed you, you died, stayed dead, and then you arrived here.”

She senses around herself as best she could, but there was nothing. It made sense, in a strange quantum-induced nightmarish kind of way. She was here, trapped in this corpse, and that was why she couldn’t use her quantum senses. A temporal anchor point caused by the cessation of her life-functions here, and she had latched onto it … with the double drawbacks that she was stuck here with Jager and that she didn’t have the power to leave.

It’s somehow fit some of the twisted mockery that her life too often was.

“What now?”

“I help you get back home.”

She would have blinked if she had conscious control of herself.

“I don’t hate you. Never have. You and I don’t see eye to eye, but that’s bound to happen. No big deal, really.”

“But, you killed me and now you are helping me. That is kind of stupid.”

“No. I killed this ‘you’. The ‘you’ whom I’ve known up to this point, but not the ‘you’ I am talking to now. I don’t assume you are, or are going to become, the person who died here today. Of course, I could be wrong, but those are the chances we take, aren’t they?”

“I want this to stop. My mind can’t take much more.”

Jager gives her another pause, then smiles in kindness.

“You love her. That’s the only important thing. Believe in that. Believe that she loves you and that you will always be that way.”

Ashnod can only nod.

“Now, say it … say I love you.”

“But I don’t love you.”

“Not me, say it to the person who is holding you in her arms. Tell her.”

Ashnod blinks then says, “I love you.”

Nothing happens and she is still staring up at Jager.

“I love you. I love you, I love you,” then with even more desperation and heart, “I love you.”

“I love you to,” sobs {deleted}. She hugs Ashnod to her breast and rocks back and forth.

“Oh, you were gone such a long time. I felt you fading away and I was so afraid I would never see you again.”

Ashnod says nothing for the moment. She buries her face into {deleted} and drinks in her smell, her heartbeat, and the quantum sense of her closeness. When {deleted} loosens her grip enough for Ashnod to breath, Ashnod reaches up and puts a hand on the back of {deleted}’s head. She pulls her head down and they kiss deeply as only lovers can.

“I’m home. I’m home.”

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