Saga Eye of the Storm: Bastion, Order 66, OCs, romance, adventure. Updated 11/17/14

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  1. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Title: Eye of the Storm: Bastion (second in a trilogy)
    Author: laloga
    Characters: OCs: (Kalinda Halcyon - Jedi Knight, Captain Stonewall & Shadow Squad - clone troopers)
    Genre: Drama, Adventure, Romance
    Era: TCW
    Rating: T
    Summary: When a young Padawan is kidnapped by Separatist forces, a Jedi and her squad of clone troopers attempt a daring rescue. Set just before, during and after Order 66. Sequel to "Wild Card," and features OCs.




    *****

    Eye Of the Storm

    This is set about eight months after Wild Card, while also referring to events that have occurred in many of my other fics along this timeline, but you don't need to be familiar with them to enjoy it. (Not that I'll turn away any new readers or reviews....both of which are always welcome and copiously encouraged!)

    FYI: ABG = After the first Battle of Geonosis; since this story will encompass Order 66 – which occurs on the 1089th day after the start of the wars – I wanted to follow the “canon” timeline as closely as possible. (Thank you, Wookieepedia!) Pay attention to the dates, as sometimes they'll shift mid-chapter.

    Again, I'm not Lucas and don't make any money from this venture.

    Now, sit back, relax and get ready to enjoy the ride....


    Part Two: Bastion

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    ~William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming


    Chapter One: Involuntary Departure

    1078 days ABG

    Balasi was unpleasant, to say the least, and it wasn't entirely due to the sticky humidity that even Traxis' temp-controlled armor couldn't keep at bay. Along with his squad-mates, he flanked the Jedi Knight, Kalinda Halcyon, and watched as she stared down the subject of their latest mission: an unctuous Human ambassador who towered over her while they stood in the courtyard of his opulent estate. Though Traxis didn't remember the Balasian's name at the moment, he knew enough to realize that this man was vastly wealthy, as evidenced by his expensive shimmersilk garments and the stink of pomade in his perfectly styled hair.

    Already it had been a long mission, even though it had barely begun. Why it's our job to get this mudcrutch to the Core is beyond me. Surely there's something more pleasant we could be doing? Maybe slogging through the tundras on Rhen Var with no clothes on? This part of the whole special-ops business I could do without.

    The Jedi took a breath, which Traxis knew meant that she was attempting to calm herself before she spoke again. “Ambassador Kerr,” she said, her voice neutral. “I ask that you please cooperate with us; the extraction will not go quickly if you insist on bringing your...belongings with you.” Though she did not turn her head, all of the clones could see the stack of bags and packages that was amassing nearby, a pile that was was steadily growing larger as a line of servants kept adding items to its bulk.

    I suppose we could fit all of that on our ship, but that's not the point. Traxis tried not to shake his head. Civvies. Honestly.

    The ambassador snorted and waved his hand in her face as though attempting to swat the dark-haired woman aside. “You shan't dictate what I can and cannot do, Jedi. Now, I told Senator Organa that I'd be willing to offer my considerable financial support to the Republic, but I'm not going anywhere without my art collection.” As if to emphasize his point, the man glared down at her from his considerable height.

    Traxis chuckled to himself. Good luck trying to intimidate a Jedi, especially this one. Especially when she's been so...preoccupied with the war and all. Preoccupied wasn't quite the right word; she had been growing increasingly uneasy ever since their encounter with the Kaminoan scientist, Creon Dai, who'd not only escaped, but had taken custody of a group of young clones. This thought made Traxis shudder. No telling what the long-neck has done with those lads. Look what he did to Weave. Though his brother's face was hidden by the helmet he wore, Traxis could picture the cybernetic implant that had been placed around the clone's left eye.

    The matter is not up for debate,” the Jedi replied. Traxis noted the steel behind her words and nodded to himself. He hadn't seen her angry too often, but he knew enough to understand that she was a force to be reckoned with if she was given cause. Kalinda – she'd insisted that her squad refer to her by her given name – took another breath before she continued. “Ambassador Kerr, we are not in immediate danger, but that could change if the Separatists make good on their promise to invade Balasi. Please accompany my men to our ship at once. I'll see to it that-”

    Again, the ambassador cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Your clones will have nothing to do with me or my belongings. I'd rather be in the company of those insufferable battle-droids of the Separatists...at least they don't pretend to be anything other than machines.” He sniffed and looked over the heads of Trax and his brothers; the ambassador was tall, for a Human, but Traxis figured that he could take the man out with a few well-placed jabs to the ribs.

    Maybe a kick to the knee-joint....you know, if it came to that. It probably won't. He's on our side, strange as it may seem. He frowned beneath his bucket. Guess it's a good thing I'm not in charge of negotiations.

    Kalinda inhaled one more time before her entire demeanor changed; Traxis watched as his brothers – Milo, Crest and Weave – all focused on her, knowing that something interesting was about to happen. Beside the Jedi, the clone Captain Stonewall remained motionless, even though Traxis figured that he and the Jedi were communicating somehow.

    The captain's somehow become Force-sensitive and fallen in love with a Jedi that he talks to in his mind. And I used to think that lightsabers were weird. This thought made him glance at the captain's kama, beneath which he knew one of the Jedi weapons was concealed; another by-product of being a Force-sensitive clone. Though, it is interesting to watch them spar, at least until they go all starry-eyed over each other.

    Fine.” She looked up at Stonewall, who nodded.

    Come on, lads,” he said through their private comm channel. “Let's go.” The Jedi had turned and begun walking out of the courtyard, making her way towards their dingy transport, the Wayfarer, where it rested in the private hangar of the ambassador's palatial estate. The heat was thick and intense; distant insects droned in the air, muting their footsteps.

    Milo – the youngest of the group – sounded confused. “We're leaving? But our orders were to extract the ambassador and bring him to the Core. Are we going to just walk away?”

    Orders are orders, but I'm sure Kalinda has a plan, Mi,” Crest replied. “Right, Cap?”

    Stonewall was silent, though Traxis could see that his gaze was on the dark-haired woman who lead the group through the paved and manicured walkways, seemingly unaware of anything except her next footfall. A sudden shout behind them made her pause her steps and incline her head, though she didn't turn.

    Where are you going?” The ambassador's voice was noticeably more nervous than before. Traxis blinked into his HUD to get a view of the Human's position behind him: sure enough, the stately man was hurrying after the Jedi and her squad. “Wait one moment....”

    Damn. Thought we'd be done with the di'kut.

    Kalinda turned at last and watched as the man approach; her dark eyes hardened for an instant before her expression neutralized again. “We're leaving, Ambassador Kerr. You've made it quite clear that you don't require any Republic assistance at this time; therefore, we're off on our next assignment. Don't worry, I'll make sure someone stops by to collect you – eventually. Come on, guys.” She turned again, but the Human male used his considerable reach to grab her arm.

    He did not just do that,” Traxis muttered. Instantly, all of the clones were clustered around the ambassador, and despite the fact that no one had his weapon aimed, the presence of five identical armored and armed men was enough to give the Balasian pause. The Jedi's gaze fell to his hand on her arm, then back up to his eyes. Kerr's fingers unclenched and he lifted his hands, stepping away from the group. That's right...back off, nice and slow.

    Please,” Kerr said, his voice obsequious. “Please, there must be something I can do...something I can provide you to make you help me?” He made a vague gesture at the pile of belongings beyond them, which was still growing larger.

    At this, Kalinda looked thoughtful. She crossed her arms before her and seemed to be deliberating something. Over the comm channel, Crest chuckled. “I know that look. This di'kut's really in for it, now.”

    Milo shushed him. “Let her do her thing.”

    Finally, Kalinda smiled up at Ambassador Kerr. Had Traxis cared about such things on women, he might have thought that she had a pretty smile. Certainly, Captain Stonewall seemed to think so and he believed that the ambassador did as well, for the tall man smiled back, relief evident on his face, especially when he heard Kalinda's gentle tone. “As a matter-of-fact, there is something that I'd like...very much.”

    What? Is she serious? Traxis resisted the urge to voice the thought over the comm. He noted that his brothers shifted minutely, though no one said anything. Stonewall remained at her side, still as his namesake with his visor fixed on the ambassador's face, his red-striped armor dappled by the palm trees above their heads.

    Kerr nodded, his hands folding and unfolding before him; Trax noted that he seemed to be sweating a little more profusely than was necessary, even accounting for the heat. “Anything. Just...please get me to the Core.” His pale eyes darted to Stonewall, and Traxis was reminded of how most civilians viewed the faceless clone soldiers who were fighting the war for them.

    We do make an impact in our kits, that's for sure. He bit back a chuckle.

    Very well.” The Jedi nodded and took a breath before she spoke again; when she did, her words were measured as if she was reciting a grocery-list. “Let's see...the journey out here from Ord Mantell was about sixteen hours. Before that, we had about five hours – each – of prep-time for the mission: going over mission plans, escape routes, that kind of thing. Stone, what are we up to?”

    Forty-six hours, General.” The captain's bucket inclined to her, his voice was neutral.

    The ambassador's eyebrows knitted in confusion. Traxis thought he could relate, but he kept quiet as Kalinda continued. “When we reached Balasi, we were asked to remain in orbit for five hours while our 'credentials' were verified, then there was that little error of our transport's detention in your loading dock – for thirteen hours, if I recall correctly.”

    Stonewall nodded. “You do. That's sixty-four hours, General Halcyon.”

    Over the private comm, Crest snickered. “I don't know where this is going, but I like it.”

    Despite himself, Traxis smiled. “Same here.”

    Kalinda went on. “And once we did manage to make it through your security measures and reach your home, I believe that you kept my men and myself waiting for...was it four or four and half hours, Captain?”

    Four and three-quarters, actually.” Only a brother could have discerned the grin in the clone captain's voice.

    She smiled again. “Of course. So that brings us to sixty-eight and three-quarter hours, Ambassador.”

    The man shook his head, his skull glinting in the sunlight beneath thinning, salt-and-pepper hair. “I'm afraid I don't follow...”

    There was a moment of silence that was broken only by the droning insects as she leveled her gaze upon the taller Human man. When she spoke her voice was devoid of emotion, but Traxis could see that she was trembling – the only indication of her ire. “I want those hours back, Kerr. That's almost three days of these men's lives that you have wasted. Those are days that none of them can afford to lose. Can you do that? Can you give them back that time?”

    Ah. Time. The one thing we don't have. Well, that and freedom, but who's keeping track? Traxis tried not to think about it, normally, but it was not a small concern for the Jedi. But she's always so concerned for us, even though it's kind of impractical. We're soldiers. We were born to die in this fight. We've all accepted it – I guess – I wonder if she ever will? He pushed the unpleasant notion to the side as he watched the ambassador's reaction.

    Kerr's mouth opened and closed; he was flummoxed and Kalinda nodded, her eyes flicking over him with unconcealed disdain. “I thought as much.” She turned and began to walk away, the clones following in her wake.

    Behind his bucket, Traxis grinned. And who says Jedi aren't pragmatic?

    *

    Stonewall didn't say anything to her until they were all back aboard the ship; while Weave and Milo prepped the transport for take-off he looked at her, sending his thoughts to her through the Force. Are you sure about this? The Council won't be pleased.

    After shooting a brief message to the Temple regarding the Ambassador, Kali had taken a seat at the small table at the center of the ship and was studying a familiar datapad.She looked up and met his eyes, and he noted the flickering anger that he'd seen in her gaze of late, indirect and distant. “I'll let them know and they can send someone else to collect him,” she said at last, her shoulders falling a bit. “But we wasted more than enough time dealing with that bishwag.” He could sense the agitation that was writhing within her, and that the memory of his and his brother Weave's capture by Creon Dai, a rogue Kaminoan cyberneticist was still fresh.

    But her...unease really started before that, with our journey to Kamino, he thought, sliding down beside the Jedi and scanning the datapad over her shoulder. Something's changed for her. Every time he thought he knew everything there was to know about Kali – as they'd been in a relationship for nearly two years – she managed to surprise him. I know she feels regret over how the clones are being used in the war, but there's not much either of us can do about that....I had hoped she'd work through it, eventually. He put a hand on her arm and sent her a tendril of calming Force-energy, hoping to soothe her.

    In response, she sighed and leaned into him, savoring the contact while she continued to study the datapad. “I still can't make heads or tails of it,” she murmured at last, setting the 'pad down and rubbing her eyes. “Those clone cadets just...vanished. Even Quinlan Vos couldn't find them.”

    Stonewall picked up the report that the Kaminoan Prime Minister, Lama Su, had sent her regarding a Clone Youth Brigade that had gone missing about eight months ago, just prior to Shadow Squad's failed assignment to capture Creon Dai. Since she'd gotten it, he estimated that Kali had read the report hundreds of times, to no avail. And the last thing we heard, he's still on the loose. There had been – admittedly conflicting and unverified – intel that indicated the Kaminoan was still working for the Seps, and no one had been able to find the missing clone cadets who were presumed long-dead by now. But she won't give up on them. The determination that emanated from her was more than admirable; Stonewall loved the part of her that refused to give up even though he knew that it often brought her heartache, so he set down the 'pad and kissed her forehead, offering what comfort he could.

    The gesture that should have made her smile simply made her look his way with a mixture of sorrow and anger, not directed at him, he could tell, but rather all the way towards the Core, towards the Jedi Council. “I know they have other things to worry about, but I've been trying to go search for the kids for months, and there always seem to be 'more important' things for us to do.” She frowned and picked up the 'pad again. “It's not fair and it's not right. The worst part is that I'm sure they realize it – Mace, Yoda and the others – but they haven't done enough to find the cadets. Even in war...this kind of thing shouldn't be allowed to happen.”

    Stonewall had no ready reply to that; all he could do was kiss her again.

    Across from them, Crest and Traxis slid into seats at the table, an assortment of rations between them. “Here,” the bald clone said, tossing Stone a protein bar. “Dinner. We're out of that tea you like, Kalinda.” His tone was apologetic but she smiled at him, and Stonewall reflected that no matter how irritated she seemed with the world at large, she always had a kind look or word for his brothers.

    She's one of us now, he thought as he unwrapped the bar. As much as any non-clone can be. We're all in this together. I don't know of any other Jedi whom that would apply to. We're lucky to have her...in a lot of ways.

    Thanks, Crest. We can pick some up another time.” She looked towards the helm, where Milo and Weave had set the hyperspace coordinates; the ship was starting to slip through the ribbon of stars. “Are you guys hungry?”

    I could eat,” Milo said, rising from his place at the co-pilot's station to join the group. “Weave?”

    The clone shook his head; the lights from the receding stars glinted off of his bucket that he almost never took off, even in the company of his brothers, and he rarely spoke anymore. Stonewall felt Kalinda's sorrow almost tangibly; one of the not-so-great things about being Force-sensitive was the ability to sense the emotions of others, particularly those you loved.He squeezed her shoulder but knew that he could do nothing more at the moment, so he reached for another protein bar. It was bland and tasteless, like most army-food, but it was at least nutritious.

    The group sat in relative quiet for a few minutes before Milo spoke. “What's next, Kalinda? Are we going back to Coruscant?” He sounded a little put-out, and Stone remembered how he'd questioned her actions with the ambassador.

    He should know better. She always has a good reason for doing what she does. At this thought, he frowned to himself. Of course, it may not always be evident – even to me – but it's there, nonetheless.

    Not right now. We need to pick up some supplies at Talasea and drop them off at Alderaan, for their relief efforts,” Kali replied. “Then I suppose it's up to the Jedi Council.” There was a trace of bitterness to her voice, for all that she tried to mask it, and Stonewall recalled how she'd gone before the Council after their encounter with Creon Dai to question them about their actions regarding the clone army.

    I can't blame her for being upset about how the clones are treated, but I've tried to explain that most of us don't see it the same way that she does. Despite his assurances, she had remained unconvinced, and had only seemed to grow more uneasy with the whole thing.

    But – in his fashion – Milo seemed oblivious her tone. “In that case...anyone up for a little bit of practice? I think I've about got that new song worked out.” His doubt seemed to have vanished with her words.

    I'm game,” Stonewall replied, glancing down at Kalinda, who was regarding Milo with fondness. “What do you think, Kali'ka?”

    As expected, his nickname for her made her smile at him, the expression filled with warmth. Before she spoke, she cast him a knowing look. I love it when you call me that, you know. “Sounds good, Mi.”

    *

    The planet of Orea was too dry for a Nautolan to be comfortable – even one with a little bit of Twi'lek blood – as they were a water-loving people and this place was mostly rust-colored dust and flat vistas. Padawan Zara Karell watched her new master, Honi Tallis, zoom away on a speeder bike and tried to quell the nervousness that arose from the absence of the red-haired woman whom she'd grown to respect and admire over the last few months of her fledgling apprenticeship. Throughout most of her thirteen years, Zara had longed to be assigned as a Padawan to a Jedi – any Jedi – but Master Tallis was not quite what she had expected.

    She's leaving, again. It feels like she only just got back from helping those villagers. Why doesn't she trust me enough to go with her? I thought I was an okay healer, at least. Zara sighed and shook her head. Maybe I don't deserve to be a Jedi, after all, if my own master won't even trust me with a simple mercy-mission.

    Don't worry, Commander,” Captain Dodge said, his eyes on the retreating speeder. “We'll have things sorted out here until the general returns.” His tone was kind and a little protective. Zara looked up at the clone captain, noting the calm assurance that he seemed to radiate. Her thick, multiple lekku, evidence of her mixed heritage, twitched with agitation.

    I know, Captain.” She hesitated. Something wasn't right, but she hadn't had a chance to mention it to Master Tallis, who'd rushed off the moment she received word that the nearby village had found more injured civilians from the last battle. I wish she was back already. A Padawan's place is with her Master, isn't it?

    Zara shivered and looked around the almost empty camp; Master Tallis' group of soldiers had arrived on Orea only a week ago to aid in the relief efforts brought about by a recent skirmish on the world. As a gifted healer, Honi Tallis' skills were much-needed, and Zara knew that she was fortunate to have been selected for her apprenticeship by such a talented Jedi Knight, despite the fact that she felt wholly unprepared for the task that had been set before her. She was, after all, still quite young, though she'd heard of other Padawans – only a little older than she – who were on the front lines. That thought was enough to make her shudder.

    But it feels like I only just left the Temple and now I'm in the middle of everything. Nothing's like I imagined it'd be. Master Tallis had said that the war made everything move faster, including the career of each Jedi, which Zara supposed was her way of telling her new Padawan that it was time to grow up. I'm a Jedi – almost. I shouldn't be afraid.

    The clone captain looked down at her. “I was going to have the boys look over the transport. That landing was a little rough for my liking and we haven't had a chance to do any maintenance to it.” She could almost taste the question in his words.

    Weird...I'm technically his commanding officer, but he's...well, an adult. Though, I guess we're about the same age, when it comes down to it. She nodded. “Okay.” Captain Dodge gave her a smart salute and turned to the rest of his men, shouting orders and generally seeming more at ease, from what she could tell. Zara continued to watch the receding dust cloud that Master Tallis' speeder had kicked up, trying to push away the agitation that had crept into her thoughts.

    Master Yoda would tell me to still my mind and not give in to fear. Maybe meditating will help. After a brief glance around, Zara moved to a spot several yards away from the camp where she figured she could meditate in peace.

    At leastOrea was pretty, if far too dry for her taste. There were no tall trees here, but there was much vegetation; in particular, she liked the spiky cacti that drew their moisture from the air, collecting dewdrops in the morning that the local fauna drank. She had woken up early this morning just to observe this phenomenon, taking delight in the way that the fuzz-birds had delicately made their way over the spines of the bulbous plants to collect what water they could, their pale blue feathers nearly matching her own skin.

    Captain Dodge's voice made her pause and turn. “Commander....”

    His words were distorted by the familiar helmet; she looked into his visor and imagined his face, like all the others. Can they tell each other apart? Without the Force, I don't think I could. “Yes, Captain?”

    Sir, General Tallis gave me strict instructions not to let you wander off.” His feet shifted in the dirt; beyond them she could see his men milling around in their various tasks.

    Zara frowned. “I just want to meditate for a while. I won't go too far.” She turned to leave, but the captain cleared his throat. When she looked at him again, he was digging something out of his belt. He tossed a small object that she caught with ease. As she examined it, she realized that it was an extra tracking chip from his kit; all clone soldiers had one embedded into their helmets, but careful officers sometimes carried spares, just in case. Captain Dodge was very careful. “For my own peace of mind, sir. But please stay nearby, just the same.”

    He wants to follow orders. But it's not like I'm going to run away. Not knowing what else to do, Zara nodded and tucked the chip in her pocket. “Thank you, Captain. I will.” She tried to sound confident, but she thought that her voice was more like a squeak; to his credit, the clone captain only nodded and turned back to his men, though she could sense that he was keeping one eye on her at all times. He's nice,she thought as she made her way into the reddish, rocky landscape. They all are, I guess. Not that I know too many soldiers. And they're all the same, aren't they? Isn't that what clones are?

    After a few minutes of walking she found a nice spot beside a smooth, purple-hued boulder. After taking a sip from her canteen – she was not dependent on being near water, but Zara found that it was a comfort to her – she crossed her legs and took a seat, resting her back against the rock and trying to quiet her mind.

    An inhale brought her the taste of dust, dry air, and the sunlight that even now was starting to bend its way across the rolling, reddish hills. Her tentacle-like lekku allowed her to absorb even the most minuscule scents; if she'd been underwater, she would have been far more informed about the world around her. Upon her exhale, she tried to release her fear and doubt and uncertainty, as she had been instructed countless times.

    But it was easier said than done. I'm not ready. Her heart beat faster with the thought that would not leave her alone. It's too much. I'm not ready for this. I'm not ready to be a Padawan. But I know I should be...I'm old enough, after all. I know I need to grow up.

    She gripped the toes of her worn boots and inhaled again, forcing her mind to be still and quiet, hoping to reach that place of calm that she'd managed to find so easily in the quiet rooms of the Jedi Temple, under Master Yoda's serene gaze.

    That was when she sensed it:

    Danger.

    It was not a taste or a scent exclusively, but rather a combination of the two; it was also a sudden knowledge that filled her with fear. In the next moment she felt a small prick of pain at her neck, then the world grew lopsided and muzzy as she heard the shouts of Captain Dodge and his men in the distance, mingling with blaster-fire and the sudden shuddering of the ground. Pain flared, then Zara was falling even as her hand lifted her saber from her side. She could taste the red dirt, and belatedly realized that one of her lekku had landed on a small cactus. There was another bout of pain, then the distinct grinding sound of approaching droids. She squinted up to see as the shouts of the clones faded in the distance.

    She felt something cold and metallic grip her arm and her saber dropped from her hand as she was lifted up to the fading sun.

    Then her world went black.
    Last edited by laloga, Nov 17, 2014 at 7:25 PM
  2. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Chapter Two: Out of Sight

    1078 days ABG

    For the umpteenth time, Kalinda stared at the datapad as if the act itself would bring her closer to finding the missing clone cadets.

    The flightpath of the transport, T-5563/R was delineated along an established route towards Drexel, its heading taking it through the Pelgrin system. The cargo, eight adolescent units and an adult unit caretaker (listed below), made contact with the Republic vessel Valiant at 0400 hours, on schedule, but failed to arrive at its destination. There were no other transmissions of any kind made from for the duration of the journey, save for the standard progression reports at each half-day cycle.

    An extensive scan of the area revealed no evidence of T-5563/R or its passengers. The Pelgrin system, while it has been reported stable in the past decade, has a history of containing peculiar nebulae, which are thought to contribute to the missing transport. It is presumed that the vessel was destroyed with all hands.

    The units in question:

    CT-34-3754
    CT-34-9905
    CT-33-5491...

    Kali closed her eyes as she'd memorized all of the cadets' numbers by now. For all the good it's done them. From the ship's galley she could hear the others playing music, the sound rising above the gentle hum of the Wayfarer's engines; she'd excused herself to come to her and Stone's cabin and go over the report – again. It bothers him that I keep reading it, but I can't stop until I find those boys. I can't give up hope even if the Council thinks there is none.

    This thought made her frown as she recalled the last time that she'd gone before the august body of Jedi; despite the fact that she knew that they were making their best efforts in what seemed to be a never-ending fight, she still was unable to come to terms with the way that they were handling the war. They say that they had no choice but to use the clones for the army, but I can't seem to accept that. I know that we're in the middle of a horrible conflict and I understand that the Council's actions aim for the greater good.

    But in the end, the Jedi Code teaches us to respect and honor all forms of life. Certainly that includes cloned soldiers? For as many awful things as the Separatists have done, at least they don't grow living beings to fight their wars for them.

    In her mind's eye she could see Kamino and she recalled Shadow Squad's visit there many months ago which had been her first awakening to the reality of the lives of the cloned soldiers. They were created only to die in the service of the Republic, and most of them will never even think that they deserve anything else. The realization filled her with remorse.

    I know that I've grown attached to Stonewall and the others, but I think that has opened my eyes to what it is that they face. From the galley, she made out the resonant, rippling sound of the ion-steel gitar and smiled to herself despite her agitation.

    Like all of his brothers, Stonewall had become incredibly proficient with his instrument, and it delighted her to hear them all play. It was a small bit of comfort to think about how far they had each come with the music lessons. Hard to believe that none of them could so much as read music when we met.

    But I shouldn't be surprised; they're bred to learn fast and remember everything. This thought inevitably lead her back to her earlier musings; she sighed and scrolled through the 'pad, her gaze distant. After a few minutes she looked up just before there was a gentle rap at her door. “Weave?”

    Can I come in?”

    A flick of her wrist opened the door and she took in the sight of the squad's medic: since his encounter with Creon Dai, he'd taken to wearing his full suit of armor almost all the time to conceal the ocular implant with which he'd been outfitted. She had done her best to make things easier for him; at first he was nearly declared unfit for duty, but Kali had used every bit of her sway as a Jedi to dissuade them from pulling him away from Shadow Squad, even getting Obi-Wan and Luminara Unduli to write recommendations that would back her up. But she'd kept most of that trouble from him, as she felt he had enough on his plate. Even now he stood in her doorway and radiated an uncertainty that was striated with grief and anger which no amount of kind words – from her or anyone else – had been able to heal. “What's up?”

    He glanced behind him; in the galley, the musical sounds of the other members of Shadow Squad had turned to a new song that Milo and Stone had been collaborating on, and she could feel that their attention was engrossed with the music. “You wanted to know if I'd made any progress with your comm unit,” he said, holding up a small, spherical object that looked as if it fitted into a Human ear. “I'm sorry it's taken so long, but I think it should work better, now.” He tossed her the device and she caught it, examining it briefly before smiling at him.

    Thank you.”

    He nodded once. “It's already been sliced into our helmets, so you should be able to hear us.”

    Should we tell Crest, or just let him put his foot in his mouth?” The Weave she had met when they'd begun working together would have given her a quiet chuckle; the armored man who stood before her now was silent even as his thoughts seethed. The implant has affected him in ways beyond what we can see. Will he ever be able to recover from what Creon did to him?

    Kali found the speculation almost unbearable and rose to stand before the clone she had come to think of as a brother. “Have you been able to figure out any more?” She kept her eyes on his visor, on the place where she knew his eyes were behind the blank face of his helmet. Sometimes she thought that she could see faint lights from the implant that he tried to hide most of the time. He's ashamed...I can tell how much it bothers him. And who can blame him for feeling that way?

    Anger rippled from Weave, not at her, but on a distant figure. Creon Dai. After a moment he shrugged. “Sort of.” His tone indicated that he didn't want to talk about it, but she was reluctant to drop the matter, as she disliked knowing that any of those she'd grown to care for were under such duress.

    Creon Dai captured and did what he pleased with him, with no regard for his life....and sometimes I can't help but think that the Republic – and even the Jedi – are ultimately no better with the way we're using the clones. For her, the comparison was as chilling as it was unshakable.

    It was also too much for her to dwell on sometimes.“Weave,” she said in a quiet voice. “Please take off your bucket.”

    His chest lifted with a sigh and for a moment she thought he would refuse. However, his hand reached up and popped the seal of his helmet; he tucked the object under his arm and kept his eyes on his feet. She wanted to reach for him, but could sense his unease, so she kept still. The implant was crescent-shaped, covering the space around his left eye and resting about midway on his cheek; it was meticulously crafted and outfitted with a multitude of sensors and lights.

    At last her met her eyes and when he spoke his voice held a strange edge. “Zoom capabilities. Heat signatures. Any spectrum I want. Traces of certain gases and molecules. Beyond that....I'm not sure.”

    But you think it does more?”

    He shrugged again. “Maybe. I still can't figure it all out.” His grip on his bucket tightened and she realized that she was staring.

    It's frustrating for him to not understand exactly how it works; and it doesn't help that he feels so different from the others. I wish I could do more. For now, all she could do was nod; after a moment of consideration she put a hand on his arm in a gesture of camaraderie. “We'll figure it out, Weave. I promise you, we will.”

    Weave sighed and replaced the helmet, and as he turned from her he paused at the door. “Maybe, Kalinda. I really don't know, anymore.” The words were distorted by his mic and her fingers closed around the comlink as he slipped from the room.

    *

    1079 days ABG

    When Zara awoke, the first thing she noticed was that she was lying against the gritty, duracrete floor of a strange room. It took her a minute or two of concentration, but she was able to coax her eyes to crack open so that she could take a look around. Wherever she was, it was black as space and just as quiet, except after a few moments she could hear the faint hum of distant machinery. There was a cold press of metal against her wrists, and she realized that her hands were bound with a set of cuffs. The air was musty.

    I'm not on Orea any more, that's for sure.

    A tendril of probing Force energy around her brought the realization that she was also not on a ship; she could sense the cold, ancient press of mountains nearby. Since she had no idea how long she'd been unconscious, she had no clue where she might be. She squinted in the darkness, curiosity competing with fear as she listened to the mechanical sounds that were far away. But where am I? What happened? Her thoughts returned to Captain Dodge and his men and she hoped they were okay. Master Tallis as well....though I doubt she even knows I'm gone.

    That was not a helpful thought, so she tried to forget it for the time being and focus on more practical matters. What would Master Yoda tell me to do? Probably meditate some more. Somehow, I don't think that's going to help. She sighed, but was able to straighten up and take a deep breath while she tried to quiet her thoughts. However, she was interrupted by the sound of footsteps beyond the door: strange, gliding ones whose like she had never heard. Instinctively she backed up into the farthest corner, keeping her eyes on the source of the noise and on the crack of light that was emerging from the opening door, even as her heart was starting to race.

    The light stretched to reveal a slender silhouette that regarded her from the doorway. Beside it, she could make out the shapes of several droids. The silhouette spoke in a smooth, melodious voice that made her quiver with an unnamed fear. “It's awake at last. Bring it to the extraction chamber.”

    That doesn't sound good at all. Zara winced as the droids entered the room, noting that they were not ordinary medical-droids; they looked stronger and more solid, with actual “arms” rather than attachments for tools. She tried not to whimper even though she could almost taste the alkaline edge of her own fear.

    The droids' grip left no room for escape and she struggled to keep her feet moving of their own volition, disliking the idea of being dragged. They took her out of her cell and down a long, dimly-lit corridor. On the way they passed several rooms with closed doors and she thought that she detected a hint of other consciousnesses, but couldn't be sure. Ahead of her walked a being that she now recognized as a Kaminoan, his gait smooth and untroubled.

    It felt like they traveled through one long hallway which curved slightly to the left at an upwards angle and seemed to go on forever. Finally, Zara was brought to a small room with a single table; the droids set her on top of it and held her in place, but she was really too frightened to do much besides tremble as the Kaminoan retrieved something from a nearby cabinet. He – she could see the crest on his head that indicated his gender – stepped to her and set a device against the skin of her neck. There was a faint prick of pain but it wasn't much, and she realized that he was extracting a sample of her blood.

    Her shoulders relaxed marginally and she turned her gaze up to the Kaminoan, who ignored her. “Where am I?”

    Large gray eyes remained fixed on the device in his hand, but he said nothing.

    She frowned and spoke again, fighting to keep the waver from her voice. “Why did you take me? What are you going to do with me? Where is this place?”

    Though she couldn't sense the Kaminoan through the Force, his emotions were almost tangible with her senses. Her lekku curled at their tips when he emanated annoyance, more so when she realized that it was directed at her. But he still remained silent. Finally he removed the device and took the blood sample away; she felt a bit dizzy and blinked her large eyes – a reflex when she was tired – as she swayed on the table. The Kaminoan glanced at the droids.

    Take her back, for now.”

    Metallic grips tightened against her arms once more; Zara tried to walk but her legs refused to move this time, so she allowed herself to be carried. When they set her back down in the chamber, all she saw was more blackness, but she couldn't tell if it was the darkened room or her own unconsciousness.

    *

    The bolt of energy singed his wrist, leaving a small but painful reminder that he still had a long way to go before he became truly proficient with the elegant weapon in his grip; Stonewall tried to relax and clear his thoughts as he listened for the tell-tale whirring of the practice droid, refusing to divert any energy to wish that he wasn't wearing a blindfold. Instead, he stretched out his awareness and concentrated – not on the spherical device that was hovering before him – but on the quiet hiss of displaced air as it shifted.

    Until...

    Fierfek. That blasted thing stings worse each time. Maybe I should put my armor back on. For greater freedom of movement, he was wearing only his off-duty tunic and pants, and the saber hilt hummed in his hand; he tried to force himself to relax again while he tried to sense where the droid had gone.

    Don't think about it so hard, Stone.” Kali's voice sounded to his right. He could picture her seated atop one of the storage crates in the cargo hold of the Wayfarer where they'd taken to holding his training sessions when the squad was on the move. “Let the Force guide your actions, instead of your brain.”

    Easier said than done.”

    He could discern the smile in her reply. “If it was easy to do, it wouldn't be worth the effort.” She fell silent when the droid moved behind him. The clone captain followed the movement without a thought and was able to successfully block the next two bolts, but the third one made stinging contact with his hand. “Ready to call it a night?”

    He wasn't, not really, but he'd been at it for hours and he could tell that he was growing fatigued. “Sure.” He deactivated the blue blade, slid the blindfold off of his eyes and called the practice droid to his palm while she rose from her place along the wall to approach him. “I didn't know it would be so hard.” It's been over a year since I started being able to use the Force....I feel like I should have a much stronger grasp on everything. Stonewall sighed and looked at the hilt of the weapon: Kalinda had made it while she was just a Padawan and had passed it to him, as she used her old master's blade.

    As she stood before him, Kali lifted the practice droid from his grip and sent it to its place in a small shelf at the side of the room, after which she reached for the hilt and clipped it to his belt. Finally she wrapped her arms around his torso and looked up at him. “It is hard, Stone. But you're doing so well. It took me years to get to where you are, and I've been training with a lightsaber about as long as I can remember.” She gave him a warm smile. “You're a fast learner.”

    It doesn't feel like it. I'm not used to struggling with anything like this.” At her eye-roll he chuckled. “It's true. On Kamino we were drilled pretty much from day one with all types of weapons; but nothing like this. Not even close.”

    In response, Kali reached up to kiss him and for a few heartbeats they were lost to each other. The action brought on a renewed thrum of Force-energy that he could almost see in the air around them, filling him with strength and happiness, especially when he pulled her as close as he could. When they parted she gave him another, quiet smile. “You're right, Stone. It's different. But I know you; soon it'll feel like you were born with a lightsaber in your hand. You're already almost able to beat me just straight sparring.”

    It was true; if she didn't access the Force to give her a preternatural sense of his actions, he could almost best her. Almost. They'd had quite a few interesting sparring sessions, actually. He grinned and smoothed back her hair from her face, pulling the dark strands loose from her braid as he did so. “Care to try some sparring again?”

    With the words he sent her a tendril of Force-energy that made her cheeks flame, and she returned the sensation in kind. Definitely the best part about the whole mystical-energy thing. He could feel her heartbeat increasing through the soft fabric of her shirt and a thrill of desire shot through him as he kissed her again.

    When Kali returned the energy she murmured his name, causing his fingertips to start aching. Soon they were leaning against the bulkhead, lost in another kiss, and his better sense told him that they should make their way to the cabin they shared if things were to continue in this fashion.

    However.

    Er...I hate to bother your 'training' session, but we're getting a transmission from the Core.” Crest's voice sounded at Stonewall's comlink, effectively ending their embrace. “It's marked urgent.”

    Kali sighed and they shared a look; while desire lingered in her gaze he could discern the underlying agitation that had become her constant companion of late. She lifted his wrist – her comm was nowhere to be seen – and replied. “Thanks, Crest. We'll be there in a moment.” Once the other clone signed off, she gave another sigh and ran her hand through her dark hair, unbound about her shoulders. “Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”

    As much as he wanted to share the sentiment, he said nothing; instead, he turned his focus to the cargo hold's entrance, sending all of his concentration to the flick of his wrist as he attempted to open the door. It was more difficult and took longer than he would have liked, but he managed in the end. This Force-business is harder than it looks. I have a whole new respect for Jedi, now. Together they made their way out of the cargo hold and towards the front of the Wayfarer, to where Crest and Traxis were seated at the helm.

    That was fast,” Crest said, activating the small holo-projector at the console of the ship. “Guess the Force helps with the whole 'getting dressed on the fly' part.....ow!” He yelped as Traxis reached out to cuff his ear.

    Just shut up about it, will you? You act like you're a kid....for kriff's sake. It's none of our concern if they want to....er.....” The scarred clone faltered even as he turned back to the navacomputer. “Never mind.”

    Crest raised his brows. “Who's acting like a kid, now? At least I keep the lines of communication open and make sure we all have a dialog.”

    I'll give you a dialog.”

    I'm proud of you both for being so mature, really,” Stonewall said, effectively silencing the other clones. “But can you please shut up for two seconds?”

    Copy that, Captain. Sir.” Crest's tone was deadpan and Stonewall shot him a look, sighing when the bald clone flashed him a wide grin.

    The recorded image that bloomed from the transmitter was familiar, and the Jedi straightened in her place as she watched Obi-Wan Kenobi's form appear before her. “Kalinda: a situation has arisen that needs your immediate attention. You may know that your former apprentice, Honi Tallis, has recently taken a Padawan of her own, a young Nautolan girl named Zara Karell. Yesterday, Zara was taken from Knight Tallis' base on Orea. You and your men are the closest available Republic force; you are to to rendezvous with Honi at Orea and investigate the matter.”

    Here he took a breath and Stonewall could make out the other man's tension even through the small, flickering hologram. Kenobi looked tired; the wars had not been going well and the Jedi were being stretched thinner and thinner as the fighting only seemed to grow worse. Things can only keep going on like this for so long....what will happen once they reach the breaking point, I wonder?

    The transmission continued. “I would ask that you reply directly to me, but I fear I may not be available....I'm being called away even as we speak.” He sighed again, the sound muffled by the recording. “Thank you, Kali. I know that you'll do everything in your power to see Zara to safety. Take care. May the Force be with you.”

    There was silence after the transmission ended; Kalinda seemed to have frozen in place. Stonewall looked at her. “We'll find her, Kali. Traxis, set a course for Orea and see if you can't get a transmission through to General Tallis to let her know that we're on the way. I suppose we'll have to forgo the Alderaanian supplies for now....” He trailed off as she remained motionless, and he sensed her anger as if it were his own, for all that she was fighting to control it.

    If the others noticed, they said nothing, while they made to follow his instructions even as he touched Kali's arm; the physical sensation seemed to draw her out of her reverie, though emotion was still latent in her eyes. “We'll get her back,” he said again, pitching his voice low as they moved away from the helm, towards the common area in the center of the ship. “I promise you.”

    I know....” Her eyes closed and she looked to be on the verge of speaking for all that she kept silent for the time being. Finally she looked at him and replied. I know that things are bleak right now, but there is no excuse for sending a child to war. Even as a Jedi...why was Zara involved in such a thing?

    War makes everything move faster, he replied. It's not pretty, but sometimes it's necessary.

    Kali shook her head. Children shouldn't be involved in something like this. Even as she replied he could tell that her thoughts were still on the clone cadets. I don't understand how we've come to this point.

    I wish I had answers, but...

    I know, Stone. They studied each other for a minute before she leaned into him; despite her sorrow, he welcomed her touch and tried to savor each embrace as if it would be their last. There's so much I don't understand, I suppose.

    At this he gave a helpless laugh and tightened his arms around her as they both turned to watch the Wayfarer's progress through the stars. You and me both, Kali'ka.

    *

    Weave was glad for the few moments that he had to himself in the cabin that he shared with Milo, even though his brother was not unpleasant company. I just don't like having my face exposed in front of anyone, even after all these months. It was hard enough in front of Kalinda, when he could detect compassion in her eyes as she looked at him. But there was pity as well, which he didn't care for. Not that I blame her; I'm pretty pitiful right now. But still. Somehow – he still wasn't sure how – she'd managed to finagle him out of experiencing any in-depth examinations at the hands of the GAR doctors, a fact for which he was grateful. I don't know if I can ever look at an exam table again without losing my mind.

    He leaned forward to the small mirror that he'd attached to his workstation beside his bunk, examining the implant. If I could only figure out how exactly this thing works, I might be able to do something about it. But his knowledge of cybernetics was still limited, despite countless hours of study since his time in the hands of Creon Dai. Despite being an amoral shabuir, that long-neck is kriffing brilliant. Indeed, the only useful thing that all of his study had revealed was that nothing in the cybernetic field came close to being this advanced, and Weave wasn't sure if that was a comfort or not.

    Probably not. Though I guess if I'm going to be a cyborg it's nice to know I'm a highly-advanced one.

    Besides being waterproof, he knew that the implant was somehow linked to his brain and that he could control it – to a degree – with eye movements similar to those he used for his HUD. It's possible I could link up the two...if I only understood how it worked. I almost wish I could talk to Creon just to figure this thing out, right before Traxis wrings his neck. The webbing of metal and wires was so intricate it may as well have been lacework, interspersed with small lights that indicated if the unit was functioning properly. Milo had told him that the lights never really ceased, even when he slept.

    Weave frowned and leaned back. For the first few weeks his vision had been strange, as initially he could not figure out how to distinguish the sensory readouts that the implant could present from his normal vision; however, after some trial and error he'd learned how to effectively 'hide' the images that the implant could call up so that he could rely on the HUD of his bucket or use his own eyes that were both – thankfully – still there.

    I'm lucky, I guess. Luckier than poor Chip, or those kids he took. At this thought, he shuddered. Like Kalinda, he was determined to find them, though he was not as optimistic as she was, particularly when it came to what might be left of them once Creon had his way. I don't know of words in any language that are enough to describe him...I guess 'monster' works. Anyone who acts with such a blatant disregard for life deserves nothing more than a shot in the head and to be tossed in a shallow grave.

    He sighed and resisted the urge to rub his brow, as the feel of the implant against his skin was still unsettling. The angry thoughts were unlike him and he realized that he was sinking deeper and deeper into self-pity such that it was getting difficult to see any light above his head. I can't help it, though. I should be able to deal with it...but I can't. I feel like I'm completely alone in all this, despite the others. His shoulders tightened, then sagged.

    To distract himself from his own thoughts, Weave glanced around the room to see where he'd left the datapad that Milo had salvaged from Perdax; once he had it in his hands he began scrolling through it – again. There were uneven, strange rows of numbers that he'd thought might have been coordinates, but nothing made sense when he plugged them into the navacomputer. At one point he'd even entertained the notion that they were a code of some kind, but that turned out not to be the case. Kalinda had even run the numbers through the Jedi Archives' vast database and nothing had turned up. After a few moments of careful scrolling he gave a sigh of irritation and tossed the 'pad to the ground with a clatter.

    Useless garbage. He caught his own reflection in the mirror and shuddered. Self included.
    Last edited by laloga, Jun 23, 2014
  3. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Chapter Three: Underestimation

    1079 days ABG

    Orea was in dust-ridden chaos. After setting down the Wayfarer and exiting the ship with his squad, Milo could see that the Republic forces were scrambling to clean up after what looked to be a devastating attack on their base of operations: clone bodies littered the dry, reddish soil even as their comrades tried to move them; the temporary structures that had been erected to provide cover against the biting heat were trampled to the dirt; and he could smell the sharp discharge of tibanna still fresh in the air.

    This is crazy,” Crest murmured over their secure comm channel. “Looks like they were completely surprised.” Those who were left alive were fully engrossed in the clean-up; to an outsider it would have looked jumbled and chaotic, but the clones could make out the organization within their brothers' movements.

    Milo shook his head. “They shouldn't have been. A soldier never drops his guard, even at camp.” He looked around, feeling sorrow all the same at the sight of his fallen brothers. “So it must have been pretty bad, whatever it was.” Traxis nodded in agreement; though he was silent, Milo noted that his hand tightened on the blasters at his hips. Weave said nothing as he trailed behind.

    Ahead of them, Kalinda and the captain hurried towards the center of the mill of clones, in the direction of a copper-haired woman in traditional Jedi garb, who was shouting orders to her soldiers. She was facing away from them, but at some unseen signal she turned and her eyes fell on the newcomers and she jogged to the squad, her gait smooth over the flat terrain.

    Master Halcyon,” she said with a bow to the dark-haired Jedi. “Thank you for coming so quickly.” She squinted in the fading light as the sun drifted to the horizon at their backs. Thankful for his helmet, Milo stared at her. From what he could tell, the new Jedi appeared to be in her mid-twenties, with bright red hair that gleamed like fire in the sunlight, and her eyes were a pale blue. He couldn't help but note the smattering of faint spots that crossed the bridge of her nose and cheeks.

    Abruptly, he shook his head to clear it. No distractions. I need to keep my mind on the task at hand.

    Ignoring the bow, Kalinda embraced the younger woman. “Honi. Are you okay?” When she pulled back she studied the other Jedi, who looked frustrated for a moment.

    I'm fine. That's the problem....I wasn't here.” She nodded to the disheveled camp. “They took her...just swept in and took Zara. The men had no time to do anything about it.” Her words were neutral, but Milo thought he could make out sorrow in her tone, particularly when her hand fell to one of the two lightsaber hilts that were clipped to her belt.

    We're here to help,” Kalinda replied. “Do you have any idea where they've taken her? Or who's taken her, for that matter?”

    General Tallis' eyes lit up and she nodded. “Save for an assortment of droids I don't know who took her, but Captain Dodge was able to report that he had the foresight to give her a tracking chip. I'm not sure if it's been disabled yet, as our scanners are, well....” She frowned and glanced around the camp at the clone troopers. “Not working at the moment. But I can use the ones on your transport.”

    With this, she made to head for the Wayfarer, but Kalinda put a hand on her arm. “I'd like to talk to Captain Dodge and any others who may have seen something. Where is he?”

    The red-haired Jedi shook her head, her hand lifting in an almost dismissive mission even as her words came out in a rush. “He fell after alerting me to the attack. So did the rest. The only ones who are alive are those who were with me at the village.”

    Kalinda stilled and Milo watched her head swivel around the camp again; he noted that there did seem to be an awful lot of clones laying in the dust. “They all....were killed? By whom?”

    General Tallis took a breath. “Master...we have no time for this. They died trying to protect my Padawan. We have to hurry if we want to find her.” She made to step to the ship once more, her robes rippling behind her.

    Milo, Weave: will you please go with Honi and see if you can't get a lock on that chip? It looks like it's our only lead. We'll ask around here: someone must have seen something.” Kalinda's voice was speculative, but he thought he could detect a note of grief.

    Certainly, Kalinda.” Milo squared his shoulders and nodded; Weave was silent. The red-haired Jedi spared them a brief look as she continued jogging to their transport, crossing the dirt with remarkable speed such that the clones were hard-pressed to keep up with her. Once she reached the ramp she strode aboard the Wayfarer without hesitation, moving to the helm and taking a seat in front of the instrument panel.

    Making herself at home, isn't she?” Weave said over their comms. He cleared his throat and switched to the exterior mic. “General Tallis: I have everything calibrated to a specific-”

    The Jedi shook her head; Milo noticed that her hair had been pinned up but was starting to fall around her face. “I see that, but I prefer a different method. It's better for long-range scans like this.” She began tweaking the panel, concentration written across her features.

    Milo shot a look at Weave, whose hands were clenching. He hates it when we mess with this stuff, but she's in charge. He shook his head. “As you say, General Tallis.”

    But Weave was clearly irritated as he stepped over to her. “Sir, if you'd just allow me to....”

    No need.” She glanced at him, an eyebrow lifted. “I know that Master Halcyon asked you to accompany me, but I'm more than able to search for the signal on my own. Why don't you stand guard or something?” Her tone was brusque; the moment she finished speaking she bent over the instrument panel again, though Milo noted that her hands were shaking and her movements were jerky and disjointed.

    Come on, vod,” he said, touching Weave's arm. “Let's leave her to it.”

    At first he thought that Weave would argue, but his brother only sighed, shaking his head as they held their places. “Fine. But I want to keep close by in case she messes something up.”

    I wish I could do more to help her, but something tells me she doesn't need – or want – my help. Milo looked at the red-haired Jedi, whose face was a study in determination. “Okay,” he said, shaking the thought away. “But I think it'll be fine.”

    Weave gave a snort of disbelief. “If you say so.”

    *

    When Zara awoke, she had no clue where she had been brought, but she did know that she was not alone; after taking a few minutes to collect herself, she realized that she could sense the presence of others nearby. It was still black as pitch, but she could smell them if she was still. There was fear; not new, but renewed, which held an acrid edge that made her blink with its strength. If she listened carefully she could hear breathing: quiet and careful and close.

    Hello?” The word sounded small in the darkness.

    There was a pause before a somewhat familiar voice replied. “Who are you?”

    My name is Zara,” she said. “I'm a Padawan Learner. Who are you?”

    A Jedi?” It was another voice, identical but for its location, perhaps a meter to the right of the first speaker. He sounded young, like her, she supposed, but also familiar. She frowned in thought even as the speaker continued. “Hey, did you hear that? A Jedi!” There were murmurs and whispers that elicited from this, and she realized that there were at least three or four others nearby, all of them sharing the same voice.

    Clones. She blinked again. They're clone voices. But....younger? “How many of you are there?”

    The first speaker replied. “There were eight, plus Sergeant Motor...but we're all that's left.” He emanated fear, though she could hear in his tone that he was trying to keep the fear at bay. She thought that he sounded like how she felt.

    Not all of our brothers survived the stasis pods....we're all that's left. Well, us and Levy. But he took Levy last week,” another one said, his voice narrow with anger and anxiety. “We don't know where he is.”

    A third boy spoke. “You're really a Jedi? Can you free us?”

    I'm only a Padawan, but my Master will be looking for me,” she replied with a swallow. “How long have you all been here?”

    The second one replied. “Months and months. We were taken from our ship and placed in stasis pods, until they stopped working. Then we were brought here.”

    Kriffing aiwha-bait....” A new boy growled, though he was shushed by another. “And no one's even tried to find us.”

    We don't know that, and besides, that kind of talk isn't helpful.” It was the first. “Commander Zara...if there's anything you can do to help us....”

    Zara felt a thrill of fear and took a breath and tried to steady herself. “It's okay,” she said, trying to picture a younger version of Captain Dodge in her mind's eye. “It'll be okay.” I don't know how, but I have to believe. She squinted in the darkness. “What are your names?”

    There was an uneasy silence before the first one spoke. “I don't have one, sir, but my number is CC-6014. The others do, though.”

    A chorus of identical voices followed his, calling out names and numbers that she tried to remember.

    CT-34-9905: Keo, Commander Zara, sir.”

    Sir, I'm CT-33-5491, but you can call me Risky, Commander.” It was the boy who had spoken of the Kaminoan.

    CT-34-3754, sir. Go by Finn, if you don't mind, Commander.”

    It took her several moments to process the new information, and she wondered at the first boy, the nameless one. “Pleased to meet all of you,” she said at last, unsure of the proper procedure in this instant.

    We would salute, sir, but for the fact that we can't see you.” It was No-Name. She smiled, despite her fear and a few of the others chuckled. The tension that had been in the rooms had lifted briefly and she could taste some of their relief in the air. “Sir. Any ideas on how we can get out of here?” His voice was still hopeful.

    They think I can help them, she realized with a gripping certainty. They're trained to look up to Jedi of all kinds, even Padawans. They don't understand that I'm just as helpless as they are. As she opened her mouth to say all of this, No-Name spoke again.

    Never mind, Commander. We figure that if no one's come for us by now, we're lost causes. But there must be a way to get you out of here.” His tone was earnest and she could practically see the others nodding in agreement. There was still fear in the air but it was growing dimmer, laced with a renewed determination that suddenly made her feel very inadequate.

    Zara took a breath and tried to ignore the pulsing dread in her own mind. “It seems like we're all in this together. We have to be strong if we're going to survive.” She was not sure where the words had come from, but saying them made her feel more like a proper Jedi, and she took another breath to gather her courage. I have to be strong...somehow.
    *

    At first Kalinda was loathe to admit it, but Honi had been correct. None of the clones that they spoke to had been present at the time of the kidnapping; whomever had taken young Zara had decimated the camp and killed any witnesses. However, only after she'd questioned at least half a dozen of the soldiers did she allow herself to feel a twinge of hopelessness. She watched the clones pick up after their brothers with grim efficiency and felt her stomach turning in a way that reminded her all-too-much of her first “real” battle many months ago, on the planet of Caradoc.

    It isn't right. They don't deserve this fate. They're living beings....not flesh-droids. She took a breath and felt Stonewall's hand on her shoulder.

    We will find her,” he said. “If any one can do it, you can-” He paused and tilted his head; she realized that he was receiving a message on their comm channel, and remembered that she'd worn the earpiece that Weave had made. A flick of her thumb activated the device so she could hear the conversation.

    .....Tallis picked up a signal. It's weak, but present. Looks like they didn't search her, unless they found the chip and got rid of it.” Weave sounded irritated about something, but she couldn't place her finger on what.

    Stone glanced at her before making his reply. “Where?”

    There was a pause; Kali could hear Honi's voice in the background and a moment later Milo answered. “A planet in the Inner-Rim, from the looks of it. Ever heard of Sethos?”

    Can't say I have,” Stonewall said.

    Kalinda frowned in thought, but she was drawing a blank as well. “How far is it from our location?”

    There was a muffle, and she thought that she heard Weave make a protest, then Honi's voice sounded. “Master. We found her. Sethos isn't that far from here...only about twenty hours, provided your ship can make it.” Her tone was dubious.

    The ship will be fine,” Kali replied, glancing around at the soldiers again. “But I think you should remain here with your men; they're your responsibility and they need your help. We can find Zara.”

    She could picture the younger woman's frown in her mind's eye. “Master Halcyon...Zara is my responsibility too. She was taken practically from right under my nose. I have to do something.”

    Very well.” I don't blame her. I think I would be much the same way.

    She felt a flash of amusement as her former Padawan made a noise of disbelief, though it faded in light of Honi's next words. “Do you want me to contact the Council, or would you like to?”

    At this, Kali winced. Neither. Following her last encounter with the group of Jedi, where she questioned them point-blank about the Order's use of the clones in the war, she had not spoken to anyone on the Council lately – save Obi-Wan – and was not eager to change that. But I should let them know...too bad Obi-Wan's in the Outer Rim. It would be good to talk to him again. She sighed. “Make sure that your men are being taken care of and I'll call the Temple.”

    As you wish.” There as a pause, then Honi's voice became distant, as if she had turned away from the comlink. “Begin prepping the ship.”

    Kalinda?” It was Milo. She almost smiled at the confusion in his voice.

    Kali shook her head. “Go ahead, Mi. Honi, it's nice to know that some things haven't changed too much, at least.” She signed off and glanced around the camp, noting the battle-weary appearance of the clone troopers as they continued to care for their fallen comrades.

    The sky was fading to a pale lavender, further contrasting with the reddish dirt beneath her armored boots and the air was too warm. She looked at Stone and the others, who'd remained at her side. “Will you help Honi with her men? Make sure that they have everything they need; I'll head back to the ship and send that transmission to the Temple. Once all that's done, we'll leave.”

    Stone nodded. She could feel a question in his thoughts, so she met his gaze. Hard to believe she was my Padawan, isn't it?

    She's a little....brusque. More so than I imagined a student of yours would be. His reply was tinted with wryness and Kali sighed.

    That's Honi. She's good at what she does, but her interpersonal skills leave a bit to be desired. Well, a lot to be desired. Don't worry, I'm going to sort her out.

    As if deciding he wanted no part of that, Stone made no further comment and instead nodded to the camp. “We'll take care of the lads here. How long do you think?”

    Kali shook her head. “Not long at all.” She made her way back to the Wayfarer, meeting the red-haired Jedi in the middle.

    Master, your men are insubordinate,” Honi remarked. “The one named Weave tried to argue with me about my adjustments to the helm.” She shook her head and stepped away, but Kali caught her arm.

    You need to keep your calm,” she said, pitching her voice low. Honi opened her mouth to object but Kalinda found that she had little patience at the moment. “And you will keep in mind that this is an incredibly talented group of men that I've been working with for nearly two years. I understand that you're anxious about your Padawan, but you will not treat them like commodities that can be used and then tossed aside. Everyone who travels with me is an equal. Is that clear?” She held her former apprentice's pale gaze.

    After a moment, Honi nodded, her cheeks flushing. “I'm sorry, Master....I just...she's my first Padawan, and I....”

    Kali took a breath and squeezed the other woman's shoulder. “I know. It's okay...we'll find her, Honi. Just try to act a little more....”

    Like a proper Jedi and not a raving lunatic?” When Honi smiled, she looked very much like the young woman that Kalinda had met many years ago.

    Kali returned the look. “Something like that. And for goodness' sake, call me Kalinda.” After a moment she sighed. “I may as well tell you now that these men are very important to me. I really need you to understand that.”

    I've heard....rumblings,” Honi said after a moment, regarding her with a sharp gaze, no doubt taking in the modified clone armor that Weave had made. “Are they true?”

    Of course that rumor comes up again. You'd think that people would have other things to talk about besides me and Stonewall. Kali bit back her sigh. “We'll discuss all that later.” She paused at Honi's expression, which indicated nothing less than complete shock. “Wait...are what true?”

    That you and the men in your squad are involved in a...” Again, the younger woman's cheeks grew pink and Kali felt a flash of indignation and no small amount of embarrassment.

    The entire squad? That's completely...” She grimaced and rubbed her forehead. “It's not true, Honi, but I would hope that you know me better than that. Now go see to your troops.” She watched the red-haired Jedi hurry back to the camp for a moment before she made her way to the ship.

    *

    Stonewall watched Kalinda hurry towards the Wayfarer for a moment before glancing at Crest and Traxis, who'd remained at his side. “I want you to make sure that all of the wounded are being taken care of. From there, see if they need any other supplies...we don't have much extra, but we do have a few things we can spare.”

    Sure thing, Cap,” Crest replied with an easy salute, though Stone could tell that he was distressed by the sight of so many dead and wounded brothers.

    I don't blame him. It's not a sight that you can get used to, but I wonder if we've become less used to it than most. Since he'd taken to running around the galaxy with Kali and the rest of Shadow Squad, he'd been involved in almost no large-scale battles; even small skirmishes such as this were unheard of in the infiltrations and similar assignments they'd been given.

    As if echoing his thoughts, Traxis looked around. “So many dead...for what? They got the little Jedi kid anyway.”

    Crest inhaled and exhaled. “I know what you mean. It feels so....” He shook his head and nodded to the nearest medic. “Never mind. Let's just go.” They hurried away to help where they could.

    Even as he watched his men move off, Stonewall felt General Tallis' approaching presence in the Force; frustrated and worried, despite the fact that she was trying to rein her emotions back. He also detected a note of embarrassment from her as she reached his position. Not sure I want to know what that's about, though if I know Kali she made good on her word. He lifted his hand in a salute. “General. It's not good, but I think your men have everything under control. Do you know of any supplies that you might need?”

    She looked at him and for a moment he could sense that she was feeling him out through the Force. Finally she looked at his helmet, where his eyes were. “Thank you, Captain....?”

    Stonewall, sir.”

    She nodded and squinted around him in the setting sun. “Right. Well...it seems we have a bit of work to do if we're going to get off of this rock anytime soon.” Her voice sounded smaller than before but he acted as if he didn't notice.

    Then let's get to it, General.”

    *

    Milo and Weave had already set up the transmitter so that the moment that Kalinda stepped aboard the Wayfarer she would be able to call the Temple. She looked flustered, which, Milo thought, was not unusual given the circumstances, but he knew that something was bothering the Jedi. I know she's had a lot on her mind, what with the captain learning to use the Force, the flood of missions we've been getting, and being worried about those cadets. For a moment he felt a stab of guilt, as he knew that he was potentially going to add to her stress-level, and he nearly said something to her then and there.

    However, she slid into the co-pilot's seat – the easiest place to send a transmission – and entered the code that would route their signal to the Core. “Everything okay?” he asked as he noted that her hands were shaking.

    She looked up and met his eyes. “Not really.”

    Fierfek. “Anything I can help with?”

    She smiled at him. “No. But thank you, Mi.” As she reached for the button that would open the channel, she paused and glanced at Weave. “About Honi: I know she'll calm down....she's just worried about Zara. I'm sorry if she was a bit....”

    But it was Milo who shook his head. “It's fine, Kalinda. She's got every right to be agitated.”

    Not on my helm, she doesn't,” Weave muttered, running his hands over the console. “Do you know how long it took me to calibrate this thing?”

    Kalinda gave him a small smile before she looked at the holotransmitter, pausing again as if to consider something. Finally she shook her head, more to herself than anything else, and activated the device. While they waited for the transmission to begin, Milo cast her a surreptitious look, getting the sense that she was measuring her future words against their potential repercussions. I don't envy her dealing with the Council. The burden of command isn't always a pleasant one...I only hope I'll be ready when my time comes.

    *

    When the flickering images of Mace Windu and Yoda appeared, Kalinda cleared her throat before either of them could speak. “Masters: we think we have a location for Zara. If all goes well, we should be able to track her down within a day or so.”

    General Windu nodded, his hands clasped before him. “That's good to hear.”

    As I think that her connection with Zara may help in the search, Honi's going to accompany us,” she added. “Things here have quieted down, but I believe that the soldiers might still be needed for relief efforts. You may want to send some reinforcements, just in case. ”

    Again, the Korun Jedi Master nodded. “Very well.” There was a pause while he studied her. “Perhaps it can be the same division that has been dispatched to pick up Ambassador Kerr.”

    Right. Kalinda met his gaze without flinching. “If you read my report, Mace, you'd understand that – on top of his many demands – we spent far too long waiting for him. It was not prudent for my men to waste their time dealing with Kerr any longer than they did.”

    Be that as it may, you disobeyed a direct order,” Mace replied. “It wasn't your place to make that call.”

    But Kali shook her head. “I disagree. It's entirely my place, Master.” She did her best to sound calm and unaffected. Master Windu sighed and pinched the bridge of his forehead, striking her as a man who had a very trouble-filled plate. There's so much going on right now, more than I'm even aware of, from what Obi-Wan has mentioned. I shouldn't be adding to his stress. Indeed, she did feel remorse about that, for all that she was convinced she'd made the correct choice.

    Finally he spoke again. “When you have rescued Knight Tallis' Padawan, you are to return to Coruscant. We have much to discuss, Kalinda.” There was a long pause while she smoothed out the fabric of her tunic.

    More to say, have you?” The diminutive Jedi Master was studying Kalinda.

    She nodded, but did not say anything for a moment. After another glance at the clones, she spoke. “After we rescue Zara, Masters, I'd like to take some time to track down the missing clone cadets.”

    The Jedi exchanged glances. “Quinlan Vos couldn't find them, Kalinda,” Mace said. “And even so...it was eight months ago. What makes you think that you will succeed?”

    I don't know for certain,” she admitted. “But I do know that I have to try. I can't allow those boys to be lost any more. I will succeed where Quin failed. I will see them to safety.”

    Kali kept her voice as neutral as she could, but she knew that they could tell how upset she was. But I must do something. On her squad's mission to Kamino months ago, she and Stone had encountered a young clone boy – the first young clone she'd ever met – and she had entertained him with some simple Force-tricks; for one moment he'd looked like a child and not like a miniature soldier as he's smiled up at her. She couldn't get the image out of her mind. Even if I fail, I have to try. But I don't think I will. I believe that they're out there....afraid and alone.

    Though she had been speaking to Mace, it was Yoda who replied. “Needed every Jedi is at the moment. Let the boys go, you must.” His gaze on her was fixed and unblinking.

    Without pausing to think she shook her head. “Master, I don't think I can.”

    We will discuss the matter when you have retrieved Padawan Karell and returned to the Temple,” Mace said in a sharp voice. “Inform us once you have her.” Abruptly, the transmission ended and Kali felt more than a twinge of anxiety.

    She sighed and leaned back in the chair for one moment, rubbing at her forehead while she stared out the viewport. A presence beside her made her turn to see Milo, regarding her with curiosity and – she thought – and edge of remorse. Now what's going on with him? “Everything okay, Mi?”
    He nodded, though his expression was thoughtful. “I want to help you find those kids, Kalinda,” he said, his voice quiet. “I'm with you.”

    Something in his tone was off, almost....guilty? She frowned to herself even as she nodded to him. “Thank you. I'll need all the help I can get.”

    After nodding again, the younger clone glanced at Weave, who was bent over the console, fiddling with the calibration of the instrument panel. “What about you?”

    Of course,” his brother replied. “I'm not broken, Milo. Of course I'm going to help.”

    Milo's face reddened. “I didn't mean...I know you're not broken, Weave.” He looked stricken and Kali took a deep breath.

    How much longer until the ship is ready?”

    Weave shrugged. “Not long.” At Kali's look he clarified. “No more than twenty minutes.”

    Great.” She activated her comm. “Stone?”

    Kali.” He sounded tired.

    Kalinda glanced in the direction of the camp, where she could make out the milling, white-armored figures of clone troopers. “We're about twenty minutes from departure. How are things on your end?”

    There was a pause before his tone changed to a more formal one. “General Halcyon. We're about done here as well. General Tallis asks that I inform you that she's ready when you are.” From the tenor of his voice she could discern that Honi was standing right next to him, probably tapping her foot in the dust with her usual impatience.

    Thanks, Stone. Meet us back here when you're done, please.”

    Even through the formality she could hear the warmth in his voice. “Can't wait.”

    *****

    A/N: Honi is technically a canon character. She was first introduced in the Jedi Apprentice books by Jude Watson, though - as far as I know - she has not made another canonical appearance.

    Thanks for reading! :)



  4. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    I love it! I laughed at Honi's insinuation about Kali's squad. Poor Kali.
    laloga likes this.
  5. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet: Yay! [face_love] I'm thrilled you're enjoying this! Thank you for the comment. :) Yeah, poor Kali, indeed. :oops:But you know how the rumor mill works...


    *****
    Chapter Four: Ready Or Not
    1080 days ABG

    After the last eight months, Creon Dai had not taken to self-sufficiency with quite as much success as he'd predicted he would. Naturally, once he'd abandoned the lab at Perdax that had been created for him by Count Dooku, he had spent several weeks searching for an adequate location to continue his work. The aftermath of his decision had been harrowing and vastly more complicated than he'd imagined, so after some consideration and a little investigation, he'd managed to make contact with someone who could offer assistance. Several months later he found himself on the mountainous planet of Sethos – in some misplaced section of the Inner-Rim – relying almost entirely on the equipment and the droids he'd taken from Perdax to keep his work going.

    The most irritating part of the whole ordeal had been trying to keep the juvenile clones alive once their stasis pods had given out about two months ago. As it was, three units had not survived the transition, reminding Creon that Humans required an inordinate amount of resources to prevent them from expiring, which was not something he'd ever had to bother with on Kamino; in the time when the pods had shut down to the present moment, Creon had manufactured only enough nanogene droids to inject into one unit, which he then – with great success – was able to modify.

    It had been a success in more ways than one, as it proved to his recent benefactor that the Kaminoan was indeed worth the effort and – minor, to Creon's way of thinking – resources that his organization had provided.

    Constructed mainly from the dark and durable wood of a long-extinct alata tree, the facility on Sethos was spacious, if a bit rustic. It had at one time in its history been the retreat of a prominent Umbaran family, though over the course of long years the Sethosian structure, indeed the world itself, had been abandoned in favor of more pleasant climes. The Techno-Union Guild owned the entire planet now, mining valuable ore as they saw fit, but they had little use for a building of this type once all of its amenities had been stripped. To say that the building – situated at the top of a rugged peak of slate mountain – was sparse was an understatement.

    Still, it was unwise to look a gift-guarlara in the mouth; the statement was crude but Creon had learned that the sentiment was true enough. At the very least he could stand at his full height here. And he had his work to occupy his time. Most days he could shut out the persistent moan of the winds that shaped the mountains beyond the walls in favor of his research and his designs. His new lab was cobbled together from the equipment he'd stolen from Perdax – part of the reason his offer had been attractive to his benefactor was that little money had to be siphoned to his project – and while it was not pretty, it more than served its purpose. Already he had made extensive advances in his field.

    But none of these things changed the fact that Creon Dai was growing weary of meetings of this nature.

    The mechanical, nasally voice of Wat Tambor – Foreman of the Techno Union Guild – was even more grating via hologram than in person, though Creon had only spoken to him as such on one occasion. “Your new lab is still to your liking?”

    The Kaminoan glanced around, noting the grime that coated everything from the cracked floor to the chipping walls. It was dark and smelled like old bones and was a far cry from the gleaming halls of Kamino. But it was his. “It suffices. I wanted to inform you that the implantation of the nanogene droids was a success. The unit continues to retain its functionality while being completely susceptible to programming at my hands. Now that it has survived the process, it has been retrofitted with the modifications that we discussed.”

    As much as a Skakoan could, Tambor sounded pleased. “Excellent. When will it be combat-ready?”

    Creon's head tilted as he considered. “The training modules that you provided are proving more difficult to integrate into its processes than the ones I've worked with on Kamino, so possibly not for another few weeks. Presently, it is only able to be linked with the computer systems as you requested.” That had been a conundrum, but after many late nights Creon had become even more convinced of his own brilliance when he'd solved the mystery of the Skakoan's unusual request that the unit be outfitted with a means to connect into any dataport. A lesser being would have wondered at the purpose for such a thing, but Creon was tired of why. He had decided to concern himself only with how.

    And the remaining units? When will they be modified?” The Skakoan's intrigue was palpable and Creon felt a note of satisfaction at the other being's shared interest in his work. He cast a glance at the only unit that he'd modified, unconscious atop one of the exam tables that he'd taken from Perdax. It had taken much sedation to keep it quiet, and the Kaminoan had developed a new respect for those members of his species who dealt directly with the creatures in the labs of Tipoca City.

    Creon looked it over, ensuring that every component of the cybernetics was intact; the nanogene droids, while allowing the clone to be programmed in a more efficient manner, also made the added implants more palatable to the Human body. It had taken weeks upon weeks of research, planning and work, but it had all proved to be worthwhile, as evidenced by the gleaming and intricate veining network of wires that he'd fastened to the unit's fragile skin, woven finer than any cloth tapestry, and infinitely more useful.

    Perhaps my greatest work yet, followed by the adult unit on Perdax. What a loss that was. Necessary, but upsetting, nonetheless. Indeed, he could still picture the clone to whom he'd given the implant. It was a thing of beauty, but will not be appreciated, I fear. And there was also the Force-sensitive clone that Dooku had wanted to “save” for his master, despite the fact that Creon had seen little use in that. It could've been so much more if I'd had a chance to work with it.

    The Skakoan cleared his throat – or at least, that's what Creon assumed the guttural sound that emanated from it was. Evidently he'd been silent too long, admiring his own work. “I have to manufacture more of the nanogene droids, but they should be ready for implantation by the end of the week.”

    Tambor nodded, though the motion was faint given his bulky plating. “Very good. I am glad that you decided to contact the Techno Union about your work....Count Dooku is a powerful man, but he is a short-sighted Human, after all.”

    Creon gave a fluid bow which he had learned that other species cared for. “I am happy to be appreciated at long last.” He paused and felt a flicker of excitement. “Additionally, the Force-user that I was able to acquire will prove most useful, I think.” Indeed, that had been a coup. The one true favor that he'd asked of his new Separatist benefactors, who had carried out his request with almost laughable ease. And that fool Dooku had difficulty gathering Jedi. As it happens, they are not so much trouble. They just need to be acquired young enough.

    You have found a way to integrate the nanogene droids and the midichlorians?” Tambor's voice held anticipation. “I did not think that such a thing was possible until I read through your research.”

    It had actually not happened yet, but Creon had learned the value of keeping his own realities close at hand and kept his voice smooth.“You will not be disappointed.”

    The Skakoan signed off and Creon was left alone once more. He cast a glance around the dingy room and tried to push aside the longing that he sometimes felt for his gleaming lab on Perdax. It is useless to dwell on the past. There was a small window in one side of the space and Creon could see the mountainous terrain of Sethos in the distance. But his glance was fleeting as his eyes took in the unit he'd modified, seemingly asleep. He knew better. As Creon examined the readouts from the sensors that were affixed to it, he noted that its brainwave functions were completely active, for all that it remained motionless. It is still assimilating the training modules that Tambor provided. Hopefully they will prove as useful as I hope, as I've not had a chance to test them, properly.

    He meandered to his workstation and studied the data he'd collected from the Padawan. Her blood was a mixture of Twi'lek and Nautolan, though he could see that the Twi'lek was only a small part – perhaps a grandparent's influence – and it was brimming with midichlorians. Creon smiled. If I can truly integrate the two, the nanos and the midichlorians....I will be able to create an unstoppable force.

    *

    As quickly as they'd arrived on Orea, Shadow Squad was on the move once more, and Traxis felt nothing but relief to be gone from the site of the massacre on the planet's surface. I know I should be used to the sight, but it never fails to bother me. Presently, he was leaning against the bulkhead, checking over his DC-17 blasters and listening to the others plan their next move.

    Sethos: here it is.” General Tallis was holding a datapad, on which she'd pulled up the intel about the planet where they were headed. “Unpopulated, mountainous, few natural resources besides ore and minerals. There's little else known about it.” She frowned at the device as though it was deliberately withholding information.

    Kalinda nodded, but she looked concerned as well. “I don't like the idea of just rushing in there. We have no clue what kind of place we're walking into.”

    We can do a scan from orbit,” the captain said. “See if we can't get a sense of what's going on while we pinpoint her signal. Perhaps that will help.” Traxis could hear the warmth in his brother's voice when he spoke to the Jedi, and he wondered what General Tallis would think about her former Master's relationship with the clone captain.

    None of my concern, anyway. The Jedi Council didn't reassign her, so perhaps it's not as big of a deal as she thought it'd be. He finished going over the first pistol and slid it into the holster at his hip, reaching for the second; the trigger on this one had been sticking lately, and he frowned to himself as he examined the weapon. Too much time spent using them and not enough taking care of them. That needs to change.

    Every moment we delay is a moment that my Padawan is in danger,” Tallis said, running her hand through her hair. Traxis was still on the fence about the new General; she seemed capable enough, but he thought that she was rather cold – compared to Kalinda, anyway.

    I guess I'm too used to the kind of Jedi who seem to give a krink about clones like us. As it turned out, the trigger-release of the DC-17 was coated with a thick layer of carbon, hence the sticking. Luckily it was the kind of thing that cleaned up easily enough, provided one took the effort. As with any weapon, the seventeens were reliable, with proper attention. Not too different from people, in a sense. But at least these I can understand and if they get broken, I can fix them. Or get new ones. He frowned to himself and ended his train of thought there.

    Honi, you must be patient,” Kalinda was replying in a quiet voice. “I'm worried about her as well, but we can't afford to go rushing in. Stone's right; an orbital scan is the very least we should do.”

    It will be okay, General Tallis.” Milo added. “If anyone can find her, it's Kalinda and Captain Stonewall.”

    Everything else aside, the red-haired Jedi was proving to be an interesting addition to their group, mainly due to the fact that Milo's eyes kept flicking to her. Trax sighed inwardly. Good luck with that, shiny. I don't think she's interested. The carbon was more stubborn than he'd thought, and he glared at the substance as he tried to work it loose.

    Kalinda?” Tallis glanced at her fellow Jedi, who shrugged. “Not 'General?'”

    Oh yeah. Almost forgot; protocol and all that. Traxis tried not to let his annoyance show. Why do they all care so much about labels? Isn't it enough that we just do our jobs? All that other stuff shouldn't matter. Damn, but the carbon was refusing to budge. He briefly considered using his toothbrush, but thought better of it.

    Don't get her started, sir,” Crest spoke up from beside Weave at the helm.

    The senior Jedi smiled at the bald clone. “Thanks, Crest.” To red-haired Jedi she shook her head. “You know I hate titles like that, Honi. It took me over a year to get them to drop the epithet.”

    It's strange,” Tallis replied. “But not unusual for you, I suppose.” She frowned at the datapad again. “Sethos. How much longer?” This was spoken to Weave, who was piloting the Wayfarer.

    He did not reply immediately and Trax noted that General Tallis seemed irritated by the delay, as her brows knitted and her jaw grew a bit more tight. Finally he spoke, his voice distorted by the mic in his helmet, and Trax noted the faintest edge to his tone. “Sixteen point five hours, General.”

    Stonewall cleared his throat. “Perhaps we should all try to get some rest. There's not much we can do until we know more of what we're up against.” The captain glanced at Kalinda and Traxis tried not to roll his eyes.

    Good luck working all that out, guys. Something tells me that this woman won't be as agreeable to the sleeping arrangements that we've gotten used to.

    But Kalinda only nodded. “Works for me.” She paused and nodded towards the rear of the ship, to the living quarters. “We don't have a lot of room, Honi. Everyone's been bunking together.”

    It's fine,” Tallis replied, her expression indicating that she was a bit confused. “I can stay with you. I presume you have your own room?”

    It was to everyone's credit that no one laughed. Kalinda took a breath and glanced at Stonewall. Something seemed to pass between them and he nodded. “I'll fetch the spare pallets, Kali.”

    I'll help,” Milo added, abruptly rising to his feet. If the new Jedi noticed anything strange, she kept it to herself.

    At last the worst bit of the carbon broke free and Traxis smiled to himself; the rest came off easy as uj-cake. Something's going right, at least. Traxis slid his second pistol back in its place at his hip and stretched. “Well, if the meeting's over, I'm going to bed.”

    At least I know where I'll be sleeping.

    *

    Kalinda, what's going on?” Honi spoke the moment that the door closed behind the dark-haired woman. “I could feel the awkwardness in the room when I mentioned you sleeping in your own quarters.” She crossed her arms and gave the dark-haired Jedi her best discerning stare.

    Kalinda regarded her former Padawan with a mixture of humor and annoyance. “Why don't you have a seat?” This is one conversation I honestly never thought I'd have with her. Funny how life works.

    Why are you being formal? It's not like you.” Honi was clearly perplexed, but she took a seat on the bed regardless, her eyes fixed on her former master; after a pause, Kali sat beside the red-haired woman, folded her hands in her lap and considered her next words with care.

    Honi...you mentioned that you heard rumors about me and my squad, right?”

    Yes, but you said they weren't true.”

    Kalinda shook her head. “No, I denied the implication that I was involved with more than one of my men. You inferred the rest.” She met Honi's eyes and watched the realization creep over the other woman as she allowed her feelings for Stone to surface. “Captain Stonewall and I have been in a relationship for some time, now. I love him.” She waited for the indignation that was most certainly coming.

    Clearly stunned, Honi shook her head. “You...love him? But...what about Obi-Wan?” Young and almost wistfully soft, her tone reminded Kalinda of the girl that she'd met at the Jedi Temple years ago, the one who had always looked up to Obi-Wan with the kind of adoring hero-worship that can only be formed in the heart of a child. “I thought you loved him?”

    It was not quite the reaction that Kali had expected from her former Padawan, and she was thoughtful for a moment before she replied. “Obi-Wan and I have come to an...understanding.” She sighed and shook her head. “We're friends, Honi. Nothing more.” Friends. It was right at last, though she missed talking to him with any kind of regularity. The war had made constant communication almost impossible, especially as his role in it had grown increasingly more prominent.

    But....you loved him. I know you did, even though you never admitted it to me.” Honi looked at her knees, still appearing very much like the teenager she'd been when Kali had taken her as a Padawan. “How can you choose a clone over Obi-Wan?”

    Rather than be irritated at Honi's assumption that Stonewall was inferior to Obi-Wan based on his origin, Kalinda considered the younger woman's perspective. I suppose I can't blame her for feeling this way. Obi-Wan saved her life when she was just a youngling and he was only a gangly teenager. I know she's always looked up to him, in a way. Though Kalinda had not been at the Temple at the time, word had quickly spread about the near-fatal turbolift “accident” that had been thwarted by Obi-Wan's heroic actions. Stars, it must have been over twenty years ago, now. “It's kind of a long story, Honi. I'll tell you on the way to Sethos.”

    Honi sighed again. “What is it, then, that makes this clone so special?” She raised a brow at Kalinda. “He's young and....attractive enough, I suppose, though I've never considered them in that....capacity.” Her tone was all business even as her eyes lingered on her hands in her lap.

    She's never been like you, Kali told herself as she bit back her sharp reply. She's never felt the urge to be with someone in the same way that you have. It's never been her nature. When she was certain she could speak without snapping, she shook her head. “Honi, I know that you may not understand, but my feelings for Stone are deeper than physical attraction. I truly do love him.”

    Love.” Honi said the word as though learning a new language before shaking her head. “You're right, Kalinda. Some things don't change.” She sighed and rubbed her nose, confusion emanating from her. “You love a clone. Does he love you in return? Can they love?”

    Enough is enough. Patience only works for so long with her. Kalinda sat up and leveled her most impressive stare on the younger woman, something that Mace Windu had done to her on many occasions. It always worked. “Stonewall is the kindest and most honorable man I've ever met, Honi, and he's capable of a great deal more than you realize, even with your vast experience. Now, I don't care what you think about him and I, our relationship, or our feelings for one another. But you should know that I meant what I said before: as long as you travel with me, you are to treat everyone with the utmost respect.”

    Though she nodded, the other woman looked even more confused at Kalinda's words. “Okay, but...the Jedi Council? Do they know? They must not, if you're still together...” Honi trailed off at the look on Kalinda's face. “They know? Why have they not ordered him to be reassigned?”

    This was more complicated and Kalinda gave her a wide smile, her own ire fading already. “You may as well settle in, Honi. Again...it's a long story, but I'll tell you the end: Stone's Force-sensitive, and we think it has to do with the fact that I love him.” She recounted their mission to Aruna and watched as the red-haired woman's eyes grew larger and larger, even though she kept quiet. When Kali reached the point where Stonewall's Force-abilities had begun, Honi shook her head.

    Never simple with you, is it?” She looked around the room, her cheeks going pink as a new realization became evident on her face. “So....when your captain said he'd get the sleeping pallets...”

    Kali laughed. “One part of the rumor is true, I guess.”

    But the red-haired Jedi frowned. “It's just him, though, right?” At Kali's look of incredulity she shook her head. “Right. Sorry...sometimes I can't tell if you're joking or not.”

    Her own face was reddening and Kalinda was at a loss for words. “Honi...”

    I mean, if you're going to forgo Obi-Wan for a clone, I suppose anything's possible.” Honi's voice was completely serious and her expression was still that of someone trying to wrap her mind around a foreign concept.

    She still catches me off guard with her bluntness. Kalinda sighed. “It's good to have you back, my old Padawan.” Don't make me regret it.

    *

    There had been anxiousness in the younger clone's thoughts, but Stonewall decided to let him speak first rather than initiate a conversation. He never wanted his men to feel like he was likely to peer into their minds and try to read them like a datapad, which was also how Kali always operated. She doesn't even like to do mind tricks, when some Jedi don't seem to have a problem waving their hands and altering another's thoughts. So he kept his conversation light as he and Milo headed for the cargo hold of the Wayfarer. “I think we stowed the pallets with those extra blankets we picked up after our last stop in the Core,” Stonewall said as he nodded towards a section of neatly stacked crates towards the rear of the room.

    But Milo had stopped a few paces behind him, radiating uncertainty. “Captain, I need to talk to you about something.”

    Here we go. Stonewall nodded again and indicated that Milo should follow him. “Talk while we look?”

    Okay.” The other man followed him and they began searching through the crates, checking the manifest that was attached to each one. After a few moments, Milo cleared his throat. “I'm not sure how to say this tactfully, so I'll just spit it out: I'd like to be considered for a promotion.”

    This made Stonewall pause, as it was not quite what he was expecting. But what was I expecting? “A promotion?”

    Milo nodded. “I think I've made excellent progress since we've started working together, sir. I think that I'm ready to...move on.” His voice had taken on the formal tone that Stonewall had not heard any of them use in private for some time. “It's not that I want to leave our group, it's just that....” He sighed and again, Stonewall felt doubt trailing from him even as the younger clone pretended to check the manifest on the nearest crate. “I know I can do more, Stonewall. I know I can offer more to the Republic and to my brothers out there, and as much as I feel...at home with Shadow Squad, I'll never be anything other than 'shiny' to the others.” Though he said the words without bitterness, Stonewall had seen him wince when the others called him the nickname.

    Milo, no one thinks of you as a shiny any longer. It's just their way of teasing.” Stonewall sighed at the copious memories. “It's annoying, to be sure, but they don't mean anything by it. If you want, I can say something to them...” Well, Crest and Traxis, anyway. Weave doesn't say much of anything these days.

    But that's just it...I'm not a shiny. I'm experienced, more so than most of the other clones out there, and I want more responsibility. I want to do more with my life.” Milo took another breath. “Like I said...I don't like the idea of leaving, but I think it's time. For me, anyway.” He winced. “I didn't know how to tell Kalinda.”

    Stonewall shook his head and put a hand on his brother's arm. “She'll want you to be happy, Mi. You know that. I do as well.” He smiled at the younger man. “I'd be glad to put in a recommendation for you....Sergeant.”

    At this, Milo laughed. “Hasn't happened yet, Captain, but I appreciate the sentiment.” There was a pause before he spoke again. “Will you talk to her for me?”

    I know she'll be okay with it, Milo.”

    The younger man shook his head. “Yeah...I know, too. But still...” He sighed again. “I'd just feel better if you said something to her first. She's got a lot on her mind right now.”

    It was an astute observation, though Stonewall knew that all of his brothers had gotten more attuned to the Jedi's behavior. We're like a family, in a way. A very strange family. He smiled to himself even as he nodded to his brother. “Of course I will, Mi. But she'll want to talk to you, herself.”

    I know, Captain. And thank you.” Milo glanced around, noticeably more at ease. “Did you check that one?” He indicated a crate at the bottom of the stack and Stone shook his head.

    As they bent to examine it, Stone cast a surreptitious look at the younger man. He has grown up, I guess. I know he's not a shiny any longer, but maybe he's right about how we see him...I know that I still see the kid I met on Teyr a few years ago. His thoughts turned to Kali and he knew that she'd be sorry to see him go, though she would be glad to know that he was trying to make his own way in the galaxy. It's going to be strange not to have him around any more.

    As if reading his mind, Milo glanced up. “I don't know if the others will take kindly to a replacement.”

    No such thing as a replacement for a brother like you, Mi,” Stonewall replied immediately. “Never.”

    Milo smiled and ducked his head as he examined the crate with care. “I think this is the one.”

    *

    The droids came again several hours after Zara woke up in the cell next to the clone boys. They'd been playing a game to pass the time, something the others had apparently made up that she didn't really understand the point of, but was a welcome distraction from their predicament; she got the sense that they had not allowed themselves to relax or have even a little bit of hope in a long time.

    I spy something...black.” There was a grin in No-Name's voice and Zara couldn't help but roll her eyes.

    The others seemed to share her sentiment despite the fact that they couldn't see her. “Come on,” Risky muttered. “That's all we can see.”

    Or can't see,” Keo and Finn said simultaneously. All the boys chuckled; that was when they heard the sound of approaching droids. Zara could feel their anxiety in the Force, almost as palatable as the abrupt scent of their fear.

    Kriffing droids.” It was Risky. The metallic footsteps were drawing closer.

    No-Name hushed them. “Commander Zara...can you tell if the Kaminoan's there as well?” There was an urgency to his voice that she had not heard before.

    Zara concentrated. It was difficult, as she was still a little bleary from the blood loss, but her senses were attuned better than a Human's; she could almost taste salty air as well as the sickly-sweet scent of anesthetic. And she had an ally in the Force. It is him. It's that Kaminoan. She shivered. “Yes.”

    The boys were silent.

    Deep within her chest, Zara's heart felt like it was trying to shatter its way out of the cage of her ribs. “Why? What does that mean?”

    No-Name answered her, his voice very quiet and deliberate. “It means he's coming for one of us, Commander. It's what happened when he took Levy.” She could feel his agitation, laced with fatigue and hunger, as if it had suddenly bubbled to the surface after he'd tried to keep it tamped down.

    Not me,” Risky muttered. “They'll have to kill me first.”

    I'm sure that can be arranged,” Keo whispered in a shaking voice. Finn said nothing.

    Zara winced at the fear that was rolling off of them. I wish I could do something to help. She could feel the faintest vibration in the floor as the Kaminoan and the droids approached. An image of her Master appeared in her mind, and she was struck with a terrible urge to see her again. Master Tallis...please help me....please....I need you, Master.

    The footsteps paused outside the clones' door and she could hear the quiet beep of the locking panel. From the slits between the rooms, she could make out the shaft of light that pierced through the room as the door opened, throwing the boys into relief. Zara tried to memorize their faces even as the droids entered the room. Four boys – seeming about her age, which meant that they were six or seven standard years old – sat with their hands bound, wearing filthy uniforms, identical except for hair of various, shaggy lengths. They stared with wide eyes at the slender figure in the doorway.

    The droids moved to the nearest one, a boy who looked up at them without fear even as he was lifted and carried from the room. The door slammed shut, casting them all in darkness once more. Zara tried to speak over the frenetic thudding of her heart. “Who?”

    It was No-Name.
  6. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    Poor No-Name! I do not like that Kaminoan dude-- he's 10 pounds of creepy in a 5-pound bag.
    And once again, Honi is letting her imagination go crazy over Kali's interpersonal relationships. Hee hee. Imagine if that rumor got back to the Council.
    Last edited by gracesonnet, Jul 7, 2014
    laloga likes this.
  7. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet:
    Totally love this line! Yeah, Creon Dai is bad news. As to the rumor about Kali and her men...I think Mace would have an apoplexy if he heard it! :p Thank you for the lovely comment! [face_love]


    *****
    Chapter Five: Intangible

    1080 days ABG

    Kalinda's eyes opened an instant before she heard Honi gasp. “What is it?”

    Both women sat up in one motion and Kali watched as her former Padawan leaned forward on the bed, her hands pressed against her forehead. “It's...it's Zara. She's calling for me.” She met Kali's eyes; her own were wide with fear. “She's terrified...”

    Can you reach her?”

    Honi shut her eyes and took several deep breaths, but shook her head after a few minutes. “No...we haven't been together that long....I don't think our connection is strong enough.” She frowned and rubbed at her arms. “Zara.”

    Even as she felt her chest tighten, Kalinda nodded. “We'll find her, Honi. She's alive, at any rate. I just wish we knew what we were heading into.” She sighed and glanced out the viewport of the cabin. There must be something we can do sooner. I hate sitting around and waiting.

    Kalinda...” The red-haired woman's voice was quiet and Kali looked back at her. “I did pick up something strange: a flash of an image. Something tall and slender....” She frowned again and rubbed at her eyes. “It looked like a being of some kind.”

    Before Kali could reply, she heard Stone's voice in her mind. What's wrong?

    Honi caught something from her Padawan...a cry for help and an image. Kali shivered at the notion that was starting to creep into her brain.

    But Stone was pragmatic. An image. Not schematics of her location, I guess?

    Kali smiled to herself. Sadly, no. But...she looked at the other woman, who still looked agitated. “Honi, I need you to try and contact her again.”

    Honi's pale eyes opened as she looked at her former master. “I'm not sure if I can. It's not like you and Obi-Wan, Master. Or like you and I were.” Communication through the Force was not a rare ability among Jedi, but it was usually relegated to those who shared a strong bond of some kind.

    I know, but I have faith in you,” Kali replied, stepping off the bed and pulling on her boots. “Just concentrate. I'll leave you alone, okay?”

    But-”

    Standing at the door, Kali held up her hand. “Please, Honi. You have to try, for Zara's sake. You have to trust yourself.”

    The red-haired woman sighed and nodded; a moment later she had closed her eyes and was sinking herself deeper within the Force. Kali slipped out of the room as quietly as she could and made her way to the helm of the Wayfarer, where Stone and Crest were seated. At her approach, the clone captain got to his feet and met her at the galley. “Is the Padawan okay?”

    I think so. She's afraid, but alive. Honi's trying to reach her again.” She paused and met his almost-golden eyes. “Stone...I think that Creon may have Zara.” She told him about the image that Honi had picked up and watched his expression darken.

    He frowned and ran a hand through his close-cropped hair, uttering a quiet Mando'a curse. “You aren't certain, though?”

    Kali shook her head. “No. She's trying to see if she can't manage it again. If it is Creon, it will make our mission more complicated.”

    But at least we'll be able to find those lads,” he added, taking her hand. She met his eyes and felt something within her stirring at his gaze, some nameless longing that had been reaching for her more and more of late, for all that she pushed it aside. Stone kissed her forehead, gently. “Whatever it is, we'll figure it out.”

    She leaned into him, taking comfort in his embrace. “How's bunking with Milo and Weave?”

    Crowded, but not bad. At least their cabin's clean,” he replied with a chuckle. She felt a flare of something from him, though it passed at once and she didn't feel like asking him about it. “How's your former apprentice? Did she take the...news well?”

    Kali smiled up at him. “She took it about as well as I expected her to. You'll understand,” she added to his confused look. “But for now, let's just say that she's still getting used to the idea that I prefer you all to call me by my name and not my title.”

    Ah.” He nodded and lifted one hand to give her a sharp salute while the other reached around her waist. “Copy that...General.”

    *

    Milo's voice was quiet in the darkness. “Can't sleep either?”

    I just wish I could figure this kriffing, shabla thing out. Why does it feel like everything is out of my grasp? Weave sighed and shook his head, the faint glow from his implant illuminating the datapad in his hand. “I appreciate you taking the time to grab this 'pad, Mi, but to be honest it's done little else but cause me a migraine.” He heard his brother's mattress shift – Milo had offered to give Stonewall his bunk, but the captain had refused – and adjusted the vision of his implant so that he could see the other clone's heat signature approach him in the darkness.

    What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Milo replied with a soft chuckle.

    Sighing, Weave glanced down at the 'pad again; he'd memorized all of the data it contained – what he could decipher, at any rate – but was no closer to discovering what it meant. When he said as much to Milo, the younger clone extended his hand to take the device. “What are you going to do? You have some hidden knowledge of codes that you haven't told me about?” I may be a freak, but I'm not stupid.

    No, but I haven't been staring at this thing for the past eight months. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes does a world of good,” Milo replied, his voice easy despite the sharpness in Weave's tone. There was silence while he scrolled through the 'pad almost idly and Weave felt his annoyance growing.

    You don't know what you're doing. Just give it back-”

    But Milo ignored him. “You said it's some kind of code?”

    Weave exhaled, long and slow, and resisted the urge to reach for the device. “Maybe. They're no coordinates that I've seen....why?”

    Silence.

    Just when Weave was about to snatch it back from his brother, Milo let out a chuckle that made him frown. “What?”

    Dunno.” The younger clone shrugged, his body outlined in crimson and orange through the implant's perspective. “If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was musical notes.”

    This made Weave pause. “Musical notes?”

    Milo nodded and tilted the 'pad towards him. “See that? Looks like a scale...not the numbers, but the way they're arranged. And this next part....well, it looks like a song of some kind.” As he studied the screen, he began to hum the simple melody under his breath.

    Weave's entire body stilled while he stared at the screen. It was so obvious now, he felt foolish for missing it before. “Mi....you're a kriffing genius...”

    Aw, thanks, vod,” Milo replied with a grin. “But we still don't know what it means.”

    Well, we're a lot closer to figuring it out,” Weave said, slapping his brother's shoulder.

    As he returned to his own bunk, Milo continued to hum the tune; it was lilting and light, and for the first time in many months, Weave felt a twinge of hope.

    *

    Several hours passed and No-Name did not return. Rather than give into the despair that was threatening to overwhelm them all, Zara decided that everyone should try and sleep, herself included. It was a strange thing to know that the three complete strangers in the next room followed her suggestion without a moment's hesitation and while she listened to their steady breathing, Zara again wondered at the chain of command that the clones had been trained to follow. I'm not any smarter than they are. In fact, every one of those boys is probably a better warrior than me. Why am I automatically in charge just because I can use the Force?

    She curled up in the corner and tried to sleep, but it was impossible to shut off her brain. After a time she decided to allow her thoughts to turn back to her master and hope that maybe, just maybe, she could reach her. I've heard that some Jedi can talk to one another through the Force, if their connection is strong. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough I can manage it.

    So Zara tried to relax. The sounds of the clone boys' breathing was a steady rhythm in the darkness, and she slipped into a meditative state after a few minutes. She pictured her master's face – in her customary scowl, though it was underlain with compassion – and tried to imagine that they were standing side-by-side once more. Master Tallis?

    There was only dark silence for a long time. However, just as she was about to give up, Zara felt a strange sensation in her mind.

    Zara?

    Hope flared within her and the Nautolan girl shifted in her seat. Master Tallis?

    Zara. There was relief, overwhelming relief. Are you hurt?

    I'm okay. He just took some blood.

    He?

    Zara took a breath. Master...it's a Kaminoan. I don't know his name. But there are others here...clone boys. Her head was starting to ache from the strain, but she kept up her focus, not daring to entertain the thought that their tenuous connection would be broken. Recalling the frightened faces of the boys, she was filled with new resolve. Please, Master. You must help us. He took No-Name and another. I don't know what he's doing with them...

    It felt as though her master had laid her own consciousness against Zara's agitation, filling her with calm. You must be strong, Zara. I'm with Kalinda and her men....we're coming for you. Don't be afraid.

    There was a noise from the next room and Zara was snapped out of her reverie as one of the clone boys – Risky, she thought – spoke to her. “Commander? Are you there?”

    Master Tallis was gone, her own head was throbbing, her arms were sore from being trapped in the cuffs, and she was still terrified for No-Name and the others, but Zara was able to breathe easier. She had hope.

    Risky?”

    His voice was very small. “We were calling you for a while...are you okay, sir?”

    Zara leaned her head back against the wall. “I am now.”

    *

    The unit that he'd selected for the bout of nanos was not nearly as docile as the other, and Creon regretted that he'd run out of the more effective brand of tranquilizers, as the ones that had been administered seemed to do nothing. Already two of his droids were sparking from a sudden attack by the creature; it had also managed to land in a severe kick to his knee-joint, which Creon had favored ever since a misplaced judgment from his youth when he'd attempted to ride a particularly wild aiwha. It was then that he recalled that one of the units that had been taken had been a command-clone, rather than the standard CT versions, which would account for its erratic behavior.

    Currently, the unit was crouched beneath a low table, back to the wall as it watched Creon try to right the droids that had been knocked over. I can't handle it on my own...that's what these droids are for. They were heavier than he realized, and part of his mind wondered at the strength of the small Human.

    The two droids that were still upright had managed to surround the unit, but they could not reach it from their positions given the lip of the table, the limited reach of their arms and their inflexible bodies. Creon glared at the nearest one as it repeatedly pummeled itself into the edge of the table, the sound echoing in the small chamber. “Not that way....go around to the side and secure the unit at once.”

    The droid's servos whirred as it moved to obey Creon's command, the other following. However, as they made their way around, the unit did something unexpected. It lunged for the nearest droid, grabbing at one of the spindly arms and wrenching it free from its owner before darting between them and out of the room altogether, pausing only to toss the arm back towards Creon's shoulder, where it struck with alarming force. The droids rotated and bumped into one another as they tried to follow the unit's movements. Just as Creon managed to right the droid he'd been with, the other two rushed past him, nearly knocking him to the dusty floor.

    Kaminoans did not yell. They did not swear or curse or express any emotion other than passive calm. But in this case, Creon Dai was the exception to the rule.

    *

    Stonewall watched Kali as she sat in the pilot's seat of the Wayfarer, the light from the console catching her eyes and giving them a faint glow. From his place at the co-pilot's chair, all he could see was her and the stars, and he rather liked the view. They'd come out of hyperspace to navigate through an asteroid field and she'd sent Crest to his bunk so that she could take her turn at the helm.

    Though I think he could handle it. She just wants something to do. Despite the fact that she appeared as calm as any Jedi he could feel her agitation.

    Or perhaps it's my own. Sometimes it was difficult to tell; he tried to be mindful of his own emotions but part of his attention was always with her, and despite everything else that he had on his mind, he couldn't help the thoughts that came to him more and more of late while he regarded the dark-haired woman. It had started with some nameless flicker of longing that he'd felt from her on Kamino, when they'd met a young clone boy.

    Only after some speculation did he think he understood, but he still wasn't sure how he felt about the realization. She wants more out of her life...I could see it when she looked at that boy. Perhaps it's even part of the reason she's so twisted up about the cadets. I wonder if she even realizes it.

    Months ago, she asked me on the Tranquility if I wished that things were different. Well I do. I wish that I could live a normal life, sometimes. Or whatever would pass for normal when you're a Force-sensitive clone soldier who's fallen in love with a Jedi Knight. But it's not possible. In the end,as much as he wanted to share the rest of his life with her, time just wasn't something that he had in abundance. The knowledge made him shift uneasily in his chair; though his eyes were still fixed in her direction, his gaze had unfocused.

    Even if we both survive this war, even if we're together for the rest of my existence, it still won't be nearly enough time. If I'm honest – really honest – it does bother me that we'll be cheated, in one way or another, of a normal life. It was a thought that troubled him on a deeper level than he'd realized at first, and he made a long, slow exhale to try and clear his mind.

    Enjoying the view?” She cast him a wry look; he gave her a reassuring smile.

    And the company.”

    She smiled back. After a moment she glanced at the navacomputer. “We're a little more than halfway to Sethos. I don't know if I want Creon to be there or not.”

    I know how you feel.” If the Kaminoan scientist was there, it would mean that the young Padawan was definitely in worse trouble than they realized, but if not....well, they'd be back to square one. I don't want to go backwards. I want to keep going. I guess I'm like Milo in that way. He looked at her again. “Had a talk with Mi today.”

    I noticed something was off with him. Is he okay?” She frowned as she maneuvered the Wayfarer around a knot of asteroids, the ship angling with grace through the dark and quiet void. He could sense her accessing the Force, a feeling he likened to gliding along the current of a river.

    Stonewall nodded. “He is. He just wanted to...” He paused as he felt General Tallis' agitation through the Force; Kali seemed to sense it too, as she inhaled sharply, though her eyes never left the helm.

    Moments later, the red-haired Jedi rushed out of the rear of the ship. “Kalinda, I...” She trailed off as she noticed the clone captain, who turned in his seat to regard her.

    Their eyes met and he noted the flush that appeared to the woman's cheeks, the bewilderment and annoyance evident in her thoughts as she looked at him. That's not particularly flattering, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's not like Kali and I are a common sight to most others.

    By contrast, Kali's voice was calm. “What is it, Honi?”

    The red-haired Jedi blinked and looked back at her former master. “It's Zara. I did it...I reached her through the Force.” Her voice was an odd mixture of agitation and satisfaction, as though she'd been trying to prove something to herself and had succeeded. “She's being held by a Kaminoan, along with several clone children.”

    Kali's eyes closed once as she nodded. Stonewall looked back at the other Jedi. “Is she okay?”

    I believe so. She said that he took some blood from her.” General Tallis frowned at the helm. “How much longer?”

    About eight hours,” Stonewall replied. “You didn't happen to get a more definitive layout of her location, did you?” Though he figured he knew the answer, the soldier in him had to ask.

    Again, General Tallis gave him an odd look, though she shook her head. “No, Captain. My Padawan is not familiar with building plans.”

    Kalinda cleared her throat. “Stone, would you mind waking the others? I'd feel better if we started coming up with some kind of plan, even though we don't have that much to go on.”

    Nodding, he rose from his seat and slipped to the rear of the ship. A few light raps on the doors of his brother's bunks was the only thing needed to rouse them, though he realized that Weave hadn't been sleeping when he saw his brother step out of the room, fully armored and replacing his helmet as he did so. Milo seemed wide awake as well and Stonewall could still feel that he was anxious. By contrast Crest and Traxis were significantly less pleased to be woken up but neither one said as much as they took their seats in the common area.

    Since they were still in an asteroid field, Kalinda remained at the helm, her former Padawan had taken the seat beside her; the two women were speaking in hushed tones as Stone followed the others in the room. He caught the hem of their words before they finished their conversation. “....ultimately none of your business, Honi, and that's the end of it.” Kali sounded irritated.

    Not that I blame her.

    The red-haired Jedi was shaking her head. “I just don't understand, Master.” However, her mouth snapped shut as she noticed Stonewall and the others taking their seats at the table.

    Kali kept her eyes on the asteroids, but when she spoke, it was clear that she was addressing everyone. “It appears that Creon has indeed kidnapped Honi's Padawan, and is keeping her along with the missing clone cadets.”

    From his place in a shadowed section of the room, Weave looked up; he'd been glancing over an unfamiliar datapad but Stonewall could feel his attention shift at the mention of the clone cadets even though he could not see his brother's face. “The cadets? Are they okay? What has he done to them?”

    General Tallis shifted in her seat. “I'm not certain. I was primarily concerned with making sure my Padawan was well. She didn't mention that they were harmed in any way.”

    He's bound to have done something to them,” Weave replied, annoyance in his tone. “You didn't ask?” Stone shot him a look and he amended his words, but there was still a frown in his voice. “You didn't ask, sir?”

    We should presume that they're alive,” Kali replied. “It won't do us any good to argue about the details that we have no way of knowing right now. And even though we don't have the exact layout of where she's being kept, we have to try and come up with some type of plan.” At her words, Weave set down his 'pad and selected another one that had been on the galley table; he began scrolling through it, emanating determination even in his silence.

    Milo glanced at the red-haired Jedi. “General Tallis, you contacted her using the Force?” His tone was quiet and respectful, which seemed to mollify her.

    Correct...?”

    Milo, sir.” He sat up and leaned forward, his voice eager. “If you could reach her again, do you think you could find out a little more about where she's being held?”

    The Jedi frowned and looked at her hands. “Perhaps. It wasn't easy....”

    You should try, at least,” Kali said. “Anything will help, even a vague description. It's important that we don't stumble in there blindly. It would mean that we wouldn't have to waste more time with an atmo scan as well.” After a pause, Stonewall felt her mind brush his. Do you think you could fortify her as you've done for me? I can 'lend' her my energy as well, but I'd also like to see if it's possible for you with someone else. She was referring to their last encounter with Creon Dai, where Kali had almost succumbed to the ferocity of Asajj Ventress until Stonewall had been able to pass her his strength through the Force so that she could stand against the darksider.

    Not sure, he replied. I've never tried with anyone but you, but I suppose it's worth a shot. I'm a bit stronger now than I was, so hopefully I won't end up in an infirmary this time. He cast a glance at General Tallis, who appeared to be concentrating on something, thus missing the exchange. But I'd feel better if you were there, Kali. She doesn't care for me. And as much as I'd like to say otherwise, the feeling is kind of mutual.

    At this, Kalinda chuckled out loud, but made no other reply.

    Crest had been watching them; it was disconcerting how sharp he was, for all that he acted otherwise sometimes. “Want to let us all in on your meeting of the minds?”

    Force-business, Crest,” Kalinda replied with a grin. “Keep your mind on the mission.”

    Stonewall bit back his chuckle as the bald clone rolled his eyes before speaking again. “So, after we catch the shabla long-neck, I can make some pretty explosions, right?”

    Wait...are we just taking him into custody?” Traxis' voice was a low growl and he cast a darting look at Weave. There was a seething frustration within him that was seeking an outlet; it was clear that he wanted revenge for what the Kaminoan had done to their brother.


    But that's not how it goes. Stonewall squared his shoulders. “Our mission is to bring him to justice, Trax. The Republic will decide his fate.” No matter how much I want to wring his neck as well.
    Last edited by laloga, Jul 14, 2014
  8. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    "Again, General Tallis gave him an odd look, though she shook her head. “No, Captain. My Padawan is not familiar with building plans.”"

    Oh, Honi. It's cute that you're trying to out-snark the clones.
    I still say, poor Weave :-(. But I'm glad No-Name apparently gave Dr. CrazyPants a run for his money.
    laloga likes this.
  9. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet: "Dr. CrazyPants" is now Creon's code name. [face_laugh] Thank you for that, and the comment! [face_love] [:D]

    *****
    Chapter Six: Almost There and Nowhere Near It

    1080 days ABG

    Zara had managed to fall asleep – in earnest this time – when she heard a soft rapping sound against the door of her cell, followed by a hushed but familiar voice. “Commander?”

    No-Name?”

    There was a soft chuckle and she could sense his presence after a moment. “Yes, Commander Zara. I'm trying to open your door. We're going to escape.”

    For a moment she was flabbergasted and couldn't determine which of the many questions in her mind that she wanted to ask first. Finally she got to her feet and moved to the door. “Free your brothers first, No-Name. You've all been here longer.”

    Is that an order, Commander?” She couldn't quite understand his inflection; she thought it may have been humorous, but there was a note of sorrow as well. Either way, she could feel his anxiousness as an almost tangible essence in the air.

    Zara shook her head, then remembered that he couldn't see her. “But you and your brothers...look, just get them out, okay?”

    Another pause, then she heard him sigh. “Yes, Commander Zara. I'll be right back...please don't go anywhere.” The levity in his tone was evident that time and she gave a faint smile as she listened to him go to the next room and start working the panel by the door. A minute later there was a hushed mutter of voices, words spoken so fast and with such familiarity that she wasn't sure if they were speaking Basic or if the clone cadets had some other language all their own.

    If he's escaped from the Kaminoan, they'll be looking for him. The realization struck Zara all at once, so she took a breath and tried to relax again, hoping to extend her senses and reach out through the Force to try and determine if anyone was coming. There was nothing – for now – but she didn't need the Force to tell her that their window of opportunity was shrinking. She heard a soft, mechanical noise followed by a boy's hiss of satisfaction; the door next to her room opened and she could almost taste the clones' delight at their freedom. The sound of booted feet moved to beyond her door and she could hear No-Name issuing muffled orders to the others.

    Risky, Keo: keep an eye out for that aiwha-bait or his droids. Finn, you're better at this techy stuff than me; there's some kind of special lock on the Commander's cell....”

    Right.”

    Zara stood by the door and waited, her senses stretched as far as they could go; she felt tired and sore as well, but she was able to push the feeling aside for the time being in light of her new focus. There was more beeping, then she heard the door unseal with a hiss. When it opened, she had to blink her eyes as the cell filled with muted light from the corridor beyond; she could make out four figures, about her height. As her eyes adjusted to the transition, she was able to take a better look at the clone cadets.

    Her observations held; they looked to be about her age, possibly in their early teens, though she knew that such a thing meant that they were only about six or seven standard years old. As she'd noted before, they were disheveled and filthy after living in captivity for so long, but their expressions were eager. She could sense that they were frightened and weary, but determined beyond anything else to get out of this place.

    One of them stepped to her and saluted. “Commander Zara. You're free.” She wasn't sure how she knew, but it was No-Name. Behind him, the others stood at attention, and Zara had to fight the inexplicable urge to start giggling at their intense formality. What's wrong with me? Nerves, I guess. She nodded to him and tried to appear calm and capable.

    However, before she could say anything, one of the others shot a nervous look down the corridor. “What's that?”

    Zara concentrated. Indeed, she caught the faintest brush of some, sharp metallic thing in the air. “Droids, I think.” She looked at No-Name, who was staring at her. “I don't suppose you have a plan to get us out of...wherever we are?”

    He actually flushed and looked at his feet. “Didn't think that far ahead, sir.”

    Well, I guess we'll just have to make it up as we go,” Zara replied with a smile. “If it makes you feel any better, I usually forget to plan for the next step, too.”

    At this, he met her eyes and nodded once before glancing at the others. “Right, men. You heard her. Let's move out.”

    *

    The Wayfarer cleared the asteroid field without incident. The moment that she was able, Kali asked Milo and Crest to take the helm so that she could be present while her former Padawan attempted to call Zara again. “Let's go to the hold,” she said to Stone and Honi, the latter of whom was still regarding the former with a wary eye. “Less distractions.” Once they reached the room, she took a seat on one of the crates and indicated that they should do the same thing.

    Honi cleared her throat and looked at Stonewall, but her words were directed at Kalinda. “Why does he need to be here, again?”

    To his credit, Stonewall made no indication that he took offense to the mistrust in red-haired Jedi's tone, even as he glanced at Kali with a somewhat sardonic expression. Before she replied, Kali studied her former Padawan for several long moments – again doing her best to impersonate Mace Windu's level stare – causing the younger woman to shift awkwardly on her crate. Finally she spoke. “I've explained it to you, Honi. Stone and I share a somewhat unusual connection with the Force. I understand that it's strange to you, but you must try to work with both of us.” I know it's silly, but I do wish they'd get along. Honi's so abrasive sometimes, and as patient as Stone is, I have a feeling that she'll start to get on his nerves eventually.

    Honi blinked and nodded despite the fact that Kali could tell that she was not convinced. Rather than dwell on the other woman's feelings, she looked at Stone and tried to convey something of an apology in her gaze as she spoke to him. “Are you ready?”

    Always.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes; she could see him sinking into a meditative state. After a moment Honi did the same and for a little while, the cargo hold was silent.

    Kalinda closed her own eyes and tried to attune herself to the currents of Force-energy that were eddying between the other Jedi and the clone captain before adding her own strength to theirs, making sure to concentrate only on fortifying them. She could feel Honi's efforts as an almost palpable ripple in the air, but they were scattered and inchoate; by contrast, Stone's own focus was laid against it, solid and sure as he was, and she felt an overwhelming urge to touch him, but kept the feeling in check. That would probably break everyone's concentration, though it might be entertaining – for Stonewall and I, at any rate.

    Long minutes passed. As they approached the hour mark, Honi shifted in her seat and opened her eyes, blinking several times before she glanced at Stonewall, who was still seated with his eyes closed. Despite the fact that he was keeping as still as his namesake, Kali could feel excitement emanating from him. “Well?”

    Brows knitted, Honi looked from Stonewall to Kalinda. “That was...strange.” At Kali's look she sighed. “I couldn't 'speak' to her, as I did before, but I was able to get a sense of what was happening with her.” She frowned as the clone captain opened his eyes, lifting his gaze to rest on her briefly before returning to Kali.

    I did as well.” His voice was quiet.

    Kali slid off of her crate and moved to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. “And?”

    A faint smile played on his mouth as he looked at her. “I have a better idea of the layout of the place, but the most important thing is that the boys appear unharmed. But...” he took a breath and held Kali's gaze. “I only counted four.”

    She felt numb. “Four?” There were eight. Eight boys. And an adult clone. Was I foolish to think I could save them all? She shook her head, trying to swallow her agitation as she looked at him. “Four.”

    I don't know about the others,” he replied, his voice still quiet. “Kali, I'm sorry.” There was silence for a moment before he looked at Honi. “Your Padawan seems to be on top of things.”

    She's young, but capable,” Honi replied, somewhat stiffly. “She managed to rescue the clone boys, at least.”

    Trying to ignore the swell of her anxiety, Kali nudged Stone's shoulder. “What else? A little information goes a long way towards me keeping my sanity.”

    He reached for her, kissing her cheek once and ignoring Honi's expression. “I don't know if things will be any easier, but they are definitely going to be interesting.”

    *

    Though his training had given him the ability to fall asleep at the drop of a bucket, Milo found that he was too restless to even attempt such a thing right now. From his place at the helm, Crest glanced at him. “I've got this if you want to doze for a while.”

    Nah.” Milo took a breath and watched the swirl of hyperspace, his thoughts on another matter entirely. I should be thinking about the mission; after all, if I really do get a promotion, I won't be able to let my mind wander off any more. But the image of the red-haired Jedi kept popping up in his brain and he found himself wondering if she liked her freckles – he'd taken a moment to look up the term while no one was paying him any mind – and thinking that he did.

    I think this is it,” Crest said after a moment. At Milo's quizzical look he nodded to the space beyond the viewport. “I think we're going to get that shabla Kaminoan this time. I just hope that I get a shot in before Traxis snaps his neck.” The bald clone sounded unusually bitter and Milo figured that his thoughts were centered on Weave. He knew that his own often were.

    My brother deserved better than that. And even though we've tried to be....nice to him, I know he's self-conscious about his implant. How can he not be? Milo had not dealt with Creon Dai directly, but he wondered how he – or any of his brothers – would handle the Kaminoan when they found him. Because we are going to find him. Shaking away the unsettling thoughts, Milo cleared his throat. “We're just supposed to bring him into custody, Crest. Besides, if we kill him, Weave might never understand what all he did.”

    Crest glanced at him, a brow lifted. “Is that something that Weave said? Because I get the impression that he's just as anxious to get a shot in as anyone, if not more so.”

    Milo hesitated; Weave was reluctant to speak of his implant, but some things became evident whether or not you wanted them known. “Sort of,” he said at last. “He talks in his sleep, sometimes.” I wish he didn't.

    A long exhale was Crest's only response for several minutes before he nodded. “Yeah.” It was more than either of them wanted to dwell on, so there was a heavy silence for a while longer before Crest cast him a sideways glance. “So...the new general.”

    What about her?” The bald cloned raised a brow at him and Milo rolled his eyes. “Come on...”

    Just calling it like I see it, vod,” Crest replied, lifting one of his hands from the console. “She's...interesting. Not at all how I imagined a student of Kalinda's would be.”

    And she can probably tell that we're talking about her, so you should keep your mouth shut.” As if to illustrate his point, Milo glanced behind him at the entrance to the cargo bay, where the Jedi and the captain were ensconced and doing their Force-thing.

    But Crest was nothing if not completely without tact, though often it was purposeful. “You think she's pretty, don't you?” He smiled when Milo didn't answer. “Thought so.”

    Well, she is,” Milo said at last. “No harm in looking, is there?”

    His brother shrugged. “She's not really my type.” Some memory seemed to cross his mind and his eyes grew distant for a moment before he seemed to snap out of it. When he looked back at Milo, his expression was wry. “Good luck with that, Mi. I don't think that any of us will be able to follow in Stonewall's footsteps in the whole Jedi-love department, but it might be fun to watch you try.”

    Milo let out a huff of exasperation. “Has anyone told you lately that you're a real pain in the shebs?”

    Crest glanced at his chrono. “Not today, actually. You're the first. Good work...shiny.”

    *

    Creon's knee was still aching, but he had no time to concern himself with it as he ordered the droids to search the facility for the rogue clone unit. He cast a glance at the unit that had already been modified, but it was not yet ready to be tested. “Scan for any sign of life,” he said to the nearest droid, a B1 with the distinctive yellow markings that indicated it contained more complex programming than the others that would – in theory – allow it some idea of tactical strategies. “I want that unit contained, but do not destroy it. They are not so easy to come by, any longer.” He watched the droid totter off.

    The first one took so well to the nanogene droids. I cannot allow even one of the others to escape. His leg twinged and he frowned to himself as he moved to search for a hypospray that would deaden the pain. At the very least, that one will make an excellent combat unit. Just as he was about to inject the medicine, his communicator chimed, the notes indicating that it was Wat Tambor.

    I would like an update on your progress.” The Skakoans never bothered with the social pleasantries of greetings, which Creon normally liked about them, though this time he almost wished that things were different, as he did not have an acceptable answer ready at the moment.

    Creon frowned at first, but was careful to smooth his features before he replied. “I am in the process of creating more of the nanos. It is rather a delicate....”

    Tambor's voice was usually mechanical and monotone, but Creon thought that he might have been able to detect notes of impatience, even anxiousness. “I have spoken with the rest of the Separatist Council regarding the cyborg unit that you have created; with the direction the war is taking, they want to push our advantage in every way possible, and have requested that it be brought to them at once. You will prepare it for battle-readiness within two point five days. Additionally, the Council wishes to take possession of the remaining, non-modified units. You will implant the nanogene droids and prepare them for shipment immediately.”

    The first unit is not yet fully programmed,” Creon replied with a real frown. “And if you want more nanos, I will need more time.”

    I cannot give it to you. The war has made time a luxury we cannot afford. Prepare the units.”

    The transmission ended.

    Creon took a deep breath and glanced around the chamber, noting the dusty coating along the walls and floor. He could see the marks of the droids, as well as the small prints of the clone unit who had escaped. There is nowhere for it to go. There is no way off of this mountain for a mere Human child. His shoulders relaxed, especially once he took in the unit that he'd modified that was resting along the far wall. A moment later he was striding over to it, studying its progress on the holo-charts at its station. Its programming is not yet complete, but perhaps it can still serve some purpose.

    With a very un-Kaminoan smirk, he activated the unit, watching with pleasure as its eyes opened and it looked up at him.

    *

    It appears to be a residence that's been converted to a lab of sorts for our long-necked friend.” Stonewall had pulled up a holo-projector and was attempting to input what detail he could with the images he'd caught from Honi's Padawan.

    Bucket-less for once, Weave nodded and lifted the datapad he'd been scouring over. “I did a little more digging; it seems that the Techno-Union Guild owns the entire planet of Sethos. What's more...I think I found an old blueprint of the building. It used to be a fancy retreat for wealthy folks.” He tapped a code into the 'pad and everyone looked up as a blue holographic image of a squat, mushroom-shaped structure appeared before them, rotating slowly.

    It appeared to be built directly into the side of a mountain, the curved dome of the roof facing the sky. Another stroke against the screen pulled up a rough outline of the interior, which consisted of a myriad of rooms and corridors along the outer edges, with the inner section reserved for a long hallway that seemed to curve up and through the entire building in a spiraling fashion. “It's old, but it stands to reason that the basic structure of the place isn't too different.”

    Good work,” Stonewall said, regarding the image with appreciation. “I'll feel a bit better going into all this with some more intel, especially now that the young ones are at large.” He glanced up and met the eyes of each of his men as they looked up at him from their places at the rounded table in the common area of the Wayfarer. “Right now, we have several tasks: to rescue the kids, bring the Kaminoan into custody-”

    And bring down the house,” Crest added, grinning as the others rolled their eyes at the pun. “Right?”

    Ignoring his brother, Traxis leaned forward. “How are we going to get in? I don't think we can just knock on the front door.”

    Weave nodded and pointed to the bottom corner of the image, his voice holding an excited edge that Stonewall hadn't heard him use in some time. “I thought about that, too. There looks to be a servants' entrance here, and another one there.....along with some larger ventilation shafts that open up onto the mountain itself.”

    Crest raised a brow. “Mountains? So we'll need ascension cables in addition to the multitude of ordo that I'm planning on carrying. I've been saving some rather powerful stuff for a special occasion like this, you know.”

    Kalinda and Honi exchanged glances before Kali spoke. “I'm not worried so much about getting in as getting out; we'll have quite a few more passengers if all goes as I hope.” She paused. “We don't know what condition the children are in, so we'll need to be prepared for the worst. As it stands there are only four boys left, that we know of.”

    At this, Weave looked up. “Only four?” Kali nodded and his face darkened further still. “We didn't give away all of our medical supplies on Orea, did we?”

    Traxis and Crest glanced at one another. “We'll be okay for a time,” Crest replied. “But we might need to make a pit-stop once we leave Sethos depending on....well...”

    Stonewall cleared his throat, causing them all to look up at him. “Speaking of getting out; Kali, do you think that you can use your shield to keep the kids hidden if the rest of us create a distraction?”

    Yes, but it'd better be a good one. I'll need every bit of my energy, and even then it may not be enough.”

    I've been thinking about that, actually.” He looked at Weave. “Vod, I know that this may be a lot to ask of you, but I think that Creon has some unfinished business with you and I.”

    Weave met his eyes, his implant glowing while his voice was quiet and dangerous. “I think you mean that the other way around, Captain.”

    At this, Traxis sat up, balling his fists and hitting them once on the table-top. “No way you're taking on the aiwha-bait without me.”

    But Kali was shaking her head. “Trax....” Her tone held a warning.

    The scarred clone looked at her. “This is important, Kalinda.”

    I know,” her voice was soft as she replied. “But not as important as helping those boys – your brothers – and Zara. Their well-being is our primary goal.”

    I thought our mission was to apprehend that chakaar.”

    Stonewall cleared his throat, but Kalinda replied. “Our mission has changed, remember?”

    Traxis frowned. “Says who?”

    Says General Halcyon,” Stonewall replied. “Kalinda's in charge, here, Trax. I hope you haven't forgotten that. She has the final say.” There was a moment where he stared at his scarred brother; finally the other man sighed and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms before him.

    General Tallis had watched the exchange without comment and once the room was silent, she gave a weighted sigh. “Now that the chain of command has been re-established, can we get back to the plan, please?”

    Stonewall nodded. “Right. Weave and I will track down Creon and keep him occupied while the rest of you rescue the lads and Commander Karell. Once they're safe, I think it best if the five of us contain the long-neck so that he can be returned to Coruscant.”

    If we can reach a Republic cruiser, we can always drop him off there, as well,” Kalinda added. “I think I remember seeing that the Infinity was in the area. As soon as we're done here, I'll contact them and ask them to stand-by should we need their help.” She met his eyes and he could see that she was apprehensive, for all that she was keeping her tone neutral.

    Milo spoke up next. “Just to be clear, you do want Crest to destroy the structure once we're done, right?”

    Please say yes.” The bald clone's voice was hopeful.

    Stonewall met Kali's eyes and she looked uncertain. If we do, we might destroy any chance of figuring out what he did to Weave.

    But the clone captain shook his head. We'll have Creon. That will have to be enough. I don't want to risk anyone else being able to pick up where he left off. It was a moment more before she nodded, though he could tell that she had her misgivings.

    Crest was looking from one to the other, as he was used to their silent communication. General Tallis, however, seemed perturbed, though the bald clone flashed her a wide grin. “It's bit much to get used to, General, but they make an effective team.”

    Kali smiled at Crest, who returned the look. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. In that case, you and Milo can place some charges and ensure that the place is destroyed once we're clear. Honi, myself and Trax will rescue the boys and Zara while Stonewall and Weave deal with Creon.” She glanced at the red-haired woman, who still looked skeptical. “Have a little faith, will you?”

    Hang on to your buckets, boys,” Crest replied. “This is going to be a blast.” He snickered while Traxis cast his eyes to the ceiling.

    Milo groaned. “I can't believe you went there.”

    Hey, it's a dirty job..."
    gracesonnet likes this.
  10. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Chapter Seven: Extraction

    1081 days ABG

    All things considered, Weave decided that he kind of liked the dizzying height and the blast of chilled air that slipped around the mountains of the planet Sethos. His implant allowed him to see every piece of granite with absolute clarity, so he was not worried as he and the captain maneuvered their way around the side of the mountain from their drop-off point at an obliging ledge. Considering that they weren't so intent on sneaking unnoticed into the facility, it was a simple matter to slip into a loose bit of grating and make their way into the heart of the building.

    Weave found that he was looking forward to meeting Creon Dai again, albeit in a grim sort of way. I'm glad that the captain didn't let Traxis come; I appreciate his intentions, but he'd just make everything more complicated. A glance at Stonewall told him that the other man appeared calm, but he didn't miss how the captain's hand occasionally crept to the lightsaber beneath his kama. “Sense anything, yet?”

    Stonewall paused as they crawled along the vent, his head tilted. Though his eyes were hidden by the visor of his bucket, Weave knew that he very likely had that odd look on his face that Force-users got when they tapped into the strange energy. After a moment he nodded. “He's not far. Agitated about something...” He could hear the smile in the captain's words over their secure channel. “Kali, is your team in position?”

    The Jedi's voice sounded through the comm. “We're ready, Stone. I can sense him as well. Something's got him a little flustered.”

    He hasn't seen anything yet,” Traxis added, his voice crackling through the static.

    The captain motioned to Weave and they continued on. The vent they were in was cramped but provided enough room for the men to move freely; after about twenty minutes Stonewall halted again and glanced up. They had reached a grating in the floor above them and after a few moments the captain indicated that they should exit. After coaxing the rusty latches loose, Stonewall slipped into the hallway first, offering his hand to Weave; soon they were stalking down a dark corridor.

    Something's off,” Stonewall said over the comm. “I don't like it.”

    There was a pause before Kalinda answered. “I sense it too....he's agitated, but there's something else wrong. Something....” She trailed off and Weave noticed how Stonewall's entire body tensed. They had stopped in a shadowed alcove of the corridor and Weave took the opportunity to remove his bucket and scan the area with his implant.

    Interesting. At least this thing's coming in handy. He noted a strange dance of molecules in the air and after a moment realized that they were some kind of pheromones, emanating from a nearby room. Further study indicated that there were traces of anesthetics and other medicinal compounds as well. I don't have the Force, but I know a lab when I see one. Creds to ingots he's in there. Rather than speak, he nudged Stonewall's shoulder and pointed. In the glow of his night-vision, Stonewall looked almost ghost-like as he nodded, and Weave thought that he was speaking to Kalinda over the comm. Weave clipped his bucket to his belt and glanced at Stonewall again, who squared his shoulders.

    We're going in.

    *

    Milo was grateful that Crest only chuckled as he listened to the exchange between the rest of their group, keeping his comments to himself. Distractions would have been an unwelcome presence in the younger clone's mind while they'd crept along the outer edges of the facility, as well as while they'd vaulted down the building's side in order to reach their present position so that Crest could set the first of his charges.

    Now that they were in place, the clone tightened his grip on the cable and ignored the part of his brain that urged him to look down, as that would be a very, very bad thing to do. Not that I'm afraid of heights, but it's probably better to just not think about the fact that we're dangling above tons of rock and mountain....damn. “How's it coming?”

    His brother managed a casual shrug despite the fact that he was also hanging from an ascension cable about a klick from the rocks below, according to the omnipotent HUD. “Almost got this one set. Then we get to move on....you doing okay, shiny?”

    Milo gritted his teeth. “For the umpteenth time, I'm not a shiny! Why can't you get it through your thick skull?”

    The more you deny it, the more I'm going to say it,” his brother replied. “That's how I work, in case you haven't figured it out by now, Mi.” He gave a dramatic sigh. “You make it almost too easy, sometimes....newbie.”

    I swear, when we get off this kriffing mountain-” Milo forgot to think about how high they were as he glared at his brother, unable to even finish the thought.

    Done. Let's move on.” Crest ignored his brother's ire and began to reel in his own cable, Milo following a moment later. They moved upwards along the smooth face of the facility towards the domed roof where they'd been dropped off by an obliging Force-push from the Jedi, something else that Milo really didn't want to think about that at the moment. After they reached the roof, they released their cables and made their way to the next point to repeat the process.

    His brother's movements were fluid and almost nonchalant even though Milo knew that Crest couldn't possibly be comfortable with their position. “Once we're done out here, I'll need to set some charges inside, just to make sure we have some especially lovely fireworks. A good soldier likes to be thorough, after all.”

    Nodding, Milo rappelled down the side of the facility again, keeping an eye out for trouble while his brother set the next charge. “Crest?”

    Mi?”

    Don't look down. Don't look down. He swallowed. “Hurry it up, will you?”

    A quiet chuckle. “I'm with you there, vod.”

    *

    The clone boys had found a loose grating and were currently clustered together beneath the floor in a ventilation shaft, trying to plan their next move when Zara felt the presence of another Jedi. Her head lifted and she was only faintly aware of No-Name shushing the others and her heart hammering in her chest while she concentrated on the familiar presence. Master Tallis? The corridor above them was dim, lit only by several pale-yellow lights that looked to be older than she; through the grating the clones around her were cast in a broken light.

    There was relief in the Jedi's reply. Zara. Where are you?

    Zara cast a look at the others, eyes resting on No-Name last. “Where are we?”

    Er...” He glanced around, clearly at a loss. “Not sure, sir.” In their haste to escape detection, the group had spent the last several hours crawling through the facility in an attempt to throw any potential pursuers off of their trail.

    One of the others – Keo, she thought – squinted through the grating. “I can hear some kind of noise in the distance....sounds like a generator.”

    Indeed, after a moment of concentration, Zara could make out the faint vibration in the air, along with the scent of raw, humming energy. She took a breath. Near a generator, Master. I don't know exactly. Part of her wondered at the fact that she was able to communicate with her master now, but she reckoned that it was maybe more due to proximity than her own skill. Are you here?

    Stay where you are; we'll find you. The adamant tone of Master Tallis' thoughts was akin to her voice, and Zara sighed with relief.

    No-Name cleared his throat and she realized that they were all staring at her. “My master is here,” she whispered. “She's coming for us. She wants us to stay put.”

    The boys looked about as relieved as she felt. “Gladly, sir,” No-Name replied. He glanced at the others. “Everyone stay sharp; it looks like we're almost out of this place.”

    Finally,” Risky muttered. They settled against the wall and waited.

    Zara looked down at her wrists; the cuffs were starting to chafe and she really wanted them off, but she couldn't figure out how to operate the locking mechanism, even with the Force. As she studied the device, she felt No-Name approach her.

    May I take a look, sir?” She nodded and held out her wrists to him, watching as he frowned over the cuffs. After a moment he picked up her wrists with a light touch and began to fiddle with the latch, his brows drawn in concentration. They remained so for several minutes before she saw a faint smile appear on his face; moments later there was a cool brush of air against her skin and the cuffs clattered to the floor. As she met his eyes to thank him, the smile broadened into a grin and he spoke before the words left her mouth. “You're welcome, Commander.”

    *

    The very last thing that Creon Dai was expecting to see were two adult clones striding into his lab as though they didn't have a care in the world. He could not speak for a moment until his eyes fell to the clone on the left, who was blessed with a very familiar implant around its left eye. Despite the churning in his gut, Creon smiled. “You have returned to me.”

    The other, non-modified clone lifted its hand and brought a small cylinder up from beneath its armor; in the next instant Creon watched the glowing blade of a Jedi weapon ignite and fill the room with a wavering blue light. “Creon Dai: you are under arrest,” the clone said as the other – the one he'd given the implant to – lifted its blaster and pointed it at the Kaminoan. “You will come with us.” The saber hummed, the energy beam so bright in the darkness that for a dangerous moment, Creon couldn't take his eyes off of the hypnotic sight.

    The glow of the modified clone's implant was barely discernible beside the lightsaber, and Creon wondered how it was faring. He tempered his movements to be as smooth as possible when he stepped forward, so not to startle either creature. “How are you liking your modification?”

    You will raise your hands and turn around,” the clone said, its voice monotone, despite the fact that Creon thought he could detect a flash of anger in its gaze. “Creon: it's over.”

    I can tell that you are not using it properly,” Creon replied, keeping his movements and his voice steady. “If you let me go, I can show you everything that you're now capable of. If you'd only give me a moment of your time.” He pitched his voice to the obsequious tone that he'd heard Lama Su use with Humans before, as they seemed to enjoy the respect of other species.

    The Force-sensitive clone tilted the blade; in the next moment it was against Creon's throat, the energy-beam hot as it rested centimeters above his skin. “I can't fathom what a moment of his time will do for you.” This one's voice had taken on a darker tone, blending with the noise of the lightsaber. The smell of ozone filled the Kaminoan's nostrils.

    Captain.” It was the modified clone, whose voice was wavering. “It's okay. I'm okay.” It looked at Creon but remained frozen in place.

    There was a pause as the other clone tilted its head for a moment before letting out a sigh and Creon felt the saber move, then a pair of cuffs being clasped about his wrists even as they were brought behind his back. “Where is your research?” Its voice was more calm, though Creon thought he could sense the Force behind its words.

    But Creon ignored it, keeping his eyes on the the clone with the implant. “You can see the molecules in the air, can you not? You can do more....so much more. I can show you, if you release me. I can make you better.” The cuffs tightened on his wrists and the lightsaber had returned to its place at his neck, but Creon ignored all of it as he focused on the clone before him, who stood stock-still, his gaze on the Kaminoan. “Let me show you.”

    *

    General Tallis sighed and looked at Kalinda. “I have a vague idea of where she is, but all I can really tell is that it's dark and she's with the clone cadets.” She shifted in her crouch; they were at the rear entrance to the facility, watching as the sky darkened with the evening's approach. From their position, the place looked deserted. Traxis knew otherwise.

    There doesn't seem to be much in the way of security,” he remarked. “Good for us, I guess. But it's odd.” He glanced behind them; after dropping off the other teams, Kalinda had set the ship down a close by, tucking it between two particularly nasty looking pieces of mountain. I don't like these kinds of missions. Too risky. Too much can go wrong. Things are always simpler in battle – just point at the unfriendlies, shoot and don't forget to duck. He exhaled in frustration.

    I only see one security camera, and can't detect any type of motion-sensors,” Kalinda replied, indicating a faint light at the rear entrance; there was a high wall with a single panel adjacent to a slender door, about fifty meters in front of them, past the relative safety of the cluster of rocks which they were currently sheltering beneath. She looked at them each in turn. “I don't want to set off any alarms just yet, so both of you stick close to me until we're past it. Honi, do you think you can get us in once we reach the panel?”

    The red-haired Jedi frowned at her. “Of course, but what about your shield? Shouldn't you conserve your energy until we're with the children?”

    But Kalinda was already concentrating and Traxis took a moment to appreciate the bubble of energy that he could barely see, faint in the air around them.He scanned the area again; if he looked closely, he could make out the armored figures of his brothers as they scurried over the top of the facility and decided that maybe he didn't have it quite so bad, after all. Rather be on solid ground then on the roof of that creepy place, with nothing between me and the rocks below.

    Let's go.” The dark-haired Jedi's voice was quiet in the darkness and Traxis' hands automatically reached for his blasters as they began to move across the rocky ground. It was always strange to travel like this, in plain sight; on the one hand knowing so very visible in his white armor, but on the other trusting Kalinda's use of the Force to keep him hidden.

    Doesn't mean I have to like it, though. Their feet made little sound as they moved towards the entrance; he estimated that the camera's range was broad, as the flat expanse of rock it looked over was rather wide, and it took them what felt like a long time to reach the door. Once they were beside it, General Tallis made herself useful by managing to unlock the panel. Everyone winced at the audible hiss that sounded once the door opened, but they were in luck, as it was the only sound. The moment the trio stepped inside, Kalinda sighed and relaxed; Traxis found that he almost missed the presence of her Force-shield, but he knew it was necessary for her to save her strength even as they continued into the facility.

    Suddenly, the dark-haired Jedi paused, her gaze growing odd and distant, which meant that she was likely talking to the captain through the Force. Traxis checked his impatience. It's annoying sometimes to be out of the loop, but they have saved our shebse more than once with that little trick. After a moment she exhaled and looked back at the others, her expression grim.

    Kalinda?” General Tallis sounded concerned, but the other woman shook her head.

    It's okay. Come on, let's not waste any more time.”

    *

    Kali felt Stone's anger in the Force as surely as if it were her own, directed with all of his considerable focus towards the Kaminoan. But she could also sense the roots of the anger within him: a palpable fear that was centered around his brother's well-being. Stone. You can't give into fear and anger.

    He's trying to bargain with Weave. After everything he put him through, after everything that he's done. She could almost feel Stone's grip on his saber tightening even as he held the blade against Creon's neck. It was disorienting to experience his perceptions even as she tried to make her way through the facility, but she was reluctant to break their connection.

    I know. But Stonewall, you must be stronger than that. It will only lead to ruin in the end.

    After a moment she felt him relax and the anger and fear were sifted out of his thoughts. I know, Kali. It's just...difficult. He almost sounded ashamed.

    She smiled and sent him a tendril of the only thing that she thought would help. I know it's hard, but I have absolute faith in you, and I love you. Now, keep your mind on the mission, soldier. She missed his reply, as her attention was snapped back to the moment by Honi's hand on her arm and the other woman saying her name.

    Kalinda shook her head and replied; they continued on. Moments later, Honi spoke again. “I can feel her. They're close.” Her voice was a whisper.

    Lead the way.” Kali nodded and shot a glance at Traxis, who was peering around with care. “Ready?” Only her own reflection was visible in his visor as he nodded; Kali then took a moment to check in with Milo and Crest. “How's the ordo coming, guys?”

    Milo's voice sounded in her earpiece. “We're about done up here, Kalinda. Crest is setting the last charge now, then we're going to make our way inside.”

    Should have some pretty fireworks for you, boss.” Crest's tone was jovial.

    Despite the gnawing urgency within her, and the weight of responsibility that had started to settle on her shoulders, Kali smiled. “That's what I like to hear. Stay in touch.” She cast another glance at Traxis. “Remind me to thank Weave again for this comlink. It makes all the difference.” He nodded again, but said nothing as they continued on, following Honi, whose head was swiveling like she was searching for a scent in the air. The corridor was eerily quiet, and Kali cast out her awareness, searching for the presence of the young clones and the Padawan. Finally, she caught something, a flicker of fear that was trying to be snuffed. She cast a glance at Honi, who had knitted her brows.

    I sense it, too. I think we're getting closer.” Their footsteps were silent against the metallic floor, and Kali was thankful for the shadowed halls, which she knew would make their flight easier. They walked for perhaps a few more minutes before Honi gave a sharp intake of breath and began to hurry down one of the side corridors, pausing before a grate on the floor as she crouched down. “Zara?”

    A small, feminine voice sounded from below their feet. “Master Tallis?” Honi's shoulders slumped with relief and she began to try and work the grate free while Traxis turned to cover them. For several moments there was only the sound of shifting metal and Honi's quite mutter of frustration as the grate refused to budge.

    As she moved to help her companion, something made Kalinda pause. “Honi?”

    I'm try-” As the red-haired Jedi started speaking, the distant wail of an alarm broke through the air.

    *

    The abiding warmth and love in Kali's thoughts was enough to help Stonewall push the bitter feelings from his mind as he gripped Creon's bonds. “Don't listen to him, Weave. We can find out what we need to from his notes, I'm sure.”

    Weave blinked once and kept his eyes fixed on Creon. “You have him?” Stone nodded and his brother exhaled. “Good. I'm going to take a look around.” As he stepped towards the interior of the lab, Stone felt a new presence appear in the room and noticed Creon's head turn, though it was a subtle motion. A trickle of danger tugged at his mind and he glanced at his brother.

    Weave, duck!”

    He did, just avoiding a small blur of flesh and metal that had launched itself at him. Creon chuckled and Stonewall found that he had little patience for the aiwha-bait at the moment; he pushed the Kaminoan to the floor and whirled just in time to face the small clone boy who was lunging at him with a ferocity he'd never seen in a Human. For an instant he was nonplussed, but Stonewall regained his senses and called for his brother to help restrain Creon while he reached out with the Force to calm the boy.

    And it was a boy, despite all appearances. He was perhaps seven standard years old, with an intricate series of wires and metalwork covering his right arm; his eyes were blank and held only the cold glare of a machine, which was the most disturbing thing that Stone had ever seen. But he was still sentient, as evidenced by the fact that he held still as Stonewall sent the Force to him. The captain was dimly aware of Weave coming to stand by Creon, holding the long-neck in place while he moved to the boy, his hands lifted in a gesture of peace.

    It's okay, ad'ika,” he said in his most soothing voice. “I'm on your side. I'm a brother.” As he spoke, he reached to touch the lad's consciousness but was met with only a squirming fear, as well as a sense of alien, of other that he could not place, but reminded him of something he'd encountered before.

    Chip. The clone that Creon took after Caradoc....he felt the same way right before he died. Stonewall swallowed and did not take his eyes off the boy.

    Above their heads, the wail of an alarm made everyone start, and again he heard Creon chuckle. The boy tensed as if to spring. Stonewall could feel Weave's agitation like his own. So he did the only thing he could think of: he laid his own will against that of the lad, coaxing whatever part of him would listen to relax.

    After a moment the young clone's body seemed to unclench and he appeared to be more at ease. Behind him, Stonewall felt his brother shift in place. It was then that the boy's eyes widened but it was not the clone captain that his gaze had fallen on; it was Weave, who was staring at him with the same intensity, the lights of his implant blinking in the dim room. As much as he wanted to let them commune, the alarm only flavored the air with more urgency, so Stone pressed his will harder and watched the boy's eyes close as he slumped to the floor.

    No one spoke for a moment before Weave glanced at him. “Overdid it?”

    Stonewall shook his head and activated his comm to call Kalinda. When she answered her voice was tight. “We're okay. I don't know who set off the alarm.” There was a pause before she spoke again. “Honi and Trax are getting the kids out now.”

    He nodded; the knot of agitation in his chest had come undone at her first words. “We may have a problem,” he tried not to shout over the alarm. “Creon is in our custody, but there's another boy here as well. He...did something to him...I don't know what, but-” He was cut off as Kali let out a curse; there was the sound of lightsabers being ignited.

    Then, static.
    Last edited by laloga, Jul 28, 2014
    gracesonnet likes this.
  11. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    Gaaaah, cliffhangers!
    Weave, don't listen to Dr. CrazyPants. You think he's going to show you how the implant works and then next thing you know, he's turned you into Darth Vader 0.9b and no one needs that in their life.
    laloga likes this.
  12. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet: Yeah, you're probably right about Creon! He's a bad egg, for sure. Poor Weave. Thank you so much for the comment! [face_love]



    *****
    Chapter Eight: If It Wasn't For Bad Luck...

    1081 days ABG

    Kriffing. Hell.”

    Crest....” Milo glanced at his brother, who was frozen in place, arm outstretched as he was just finishing setting a charge on one of the interior walls of the facility's lowest level. It was a dimly lit corridor, though the glow of the younger clone's HUD made the fact irrelevant, and he'd taken to studying the blueprint of the place that Weave had uploaded into their intel-feed. Just in case. In the moment before the alarm it had been so quiet he had thought that he could hear the murmur of blood in his veins. The sudden sound of the klaxon had nearly made him jump out of his armor. “What did you do?”

    What makes you think it was me?” His brother snatched his hand back from the wall as though he'd been shocked, tilting his head to look around at their position.

    Milo scanned the area with his HUD but couldn't determine if there were any enemies nearby. All I see is corridor and cobwebs. He watched as Crest reached for another charge and sighed. “Right. Let's keep on, then. We still have a job to do.”

    Soon they were hurrying down the passage, their steps silent beneath the screaming alarm; after a moment Milo had to deaden the sound with his helmet. How can anyone think through this? Well, I guess it doesn't matter so much with droids. “How many more do you have to set?”

    Ideally?” Crest managed to sound thoughtful even at the pace they were setting. “A few dozen. Realistically? Maybe five.” The corridor curved to the left, the incline ascending just enough to make their muscles work that much harder. It felt like one smooth spiral that would – he supposed – eventually lead them to the top-most layer. This particular section looked as if no living creature had entered it in decades; he could make out layers of dust and grime, as well as cracked chips of ceiling that had been shaken loose by some long-ago trauma.

    Five?” They paused as Crest bent to set another charge, taking the time to ensure that it was calibrated properly before placing it along the smooth, ancient wood of the wall. On a whim, Milo removed his helmet to glance around with his own eyes, deece lifted, straining to hear the sound of any approaching tinnies. The faint light cast his and Crest's armor in a sickly glow that made him uneasy, so he replaced the bucket after a moment.

    He watched Crest work, noting the deftness of his brother's hands. “To do the job right, I'd set up at least two dozen more, but I'll wager we're going to have to beat a hasty retreat here in a minute, Mi. On that note...”

    Right.” Milo activated his comm. “Kalinda?”

    Static.

    He frowned and tried again. “Captain?”

    Milo. Update?” Stonewall's voice was unnaturally calm.

    Crest says he's got another few dozen charges to set.”

    He's got time for five.”

    Crest's chuckle was audible even through the wailing alarm. “Great minds, eh Cap?”

    Stonewall sighed. “We have Creon in custody, along with one of the lads, but it looks like we're going to need some help...can you make it here when you're done? The lab's on the fourth level from the top, east sector.”

    Of course,” Milo replied. “But we don't have much time...”
    At this, Crest shook his head. “You go. I've got this.” Now he sounded calm, without a trace of his usual joviality.

    He always means business with those dets. Guess that's the smart way to be with powerful explosives.

    There was hesitation in Stonewall's reply. “I don't like you two splitting up.”

    And I don't like a rushed job,” Crest said, his voice firm. “Captain, we both know that these dets aren't toys. I'll keep to the base levels and then quit this place the moment I'm done. This way, everyone can have enough time to complete their missions and we can all watch the fireworks together – from atmo.”

    Crest, you're sure?” The captain's voice had taken on the clipped, precise intonation that all clones favored in the heat of battle, but Milo thought he could still detect a note of anxiety.

    This is what it means to be in command; making the tough calls. I hope I'm ready when the time comes. Milo swallowed. “He's right, Captain. I can make it to your position in no time at all. Creon and the boys' rescue is our main objective, right?”

    A sigh that said so much without a word before Stonewall replied. “Milo, we'll see you in a minute. Crest-”

    Be careful, I know,” the bald clone replied, his tone light again, as if he was about to crack a joke. “Same flarg, new day.”

    *

    Zara had never been quite so happy to see the red-haired Human woman in all her life, even though the Jedi's features were distorted by the grating above her head and the dim light that filtered through. “Master Tallis?”

    There was no response for a moment as her master bent to work the grating free before she looked up and spoke to someone else. “Traxis, right? Help me.” Zara could hear the sound of weapons being set away and the noise of boots scuffing against the floor.

    Beside Zara, the other clone boys had clustered around, peering up at the Jedi and the image of a clone trooper who soon came into view, bending down to try and pry open the grate. No-Name glanced at the others. “Stand back. Let them work.” He put a hand on Zara's arm and she moved aside with him.

    Crinking, rusty....” The clone trooper's voice was a growl and Risky chuckled even though No-Name shot him a look.

    In the background, Zara could hear another Human voice, and though she didn't recognize the Force-presence, she figured it was her master's old master, Kalinda Halcyon. As she was about to ask, an alarm began to sound and the adult clone let out another curse; the grate was well and truly stuck, it seemed. Zara watched as her master drew back and reached for her saber even as she cast a look down at her Padawan, while the trooper paused and seemed torn between the blasters at his sides and the grate below him.

    Honi, droids.” The other woman's voice held a warning and that was when Zara felt a slice of danger. The rippling smell of plasma and ozone came right before the sound of a lightsaber being ignited, and Master Tallis let out a frustrated sigh as she stood up and activated her own weapon.

    Kalinda's voice sounded again. “Traxis, get them out. We'll cover you.” Almost as soon as she said the words, the shriek of blaster-fire began. Zara shrank back against the wall, overwhelmed by the miasma of tibanna mixed with her own fear, as well as the grinding, metallic sound of the approaching droids; moments later she could smell the sear of metal where the sabers connected with their marks.

    Right.” The trooper pulled out a wicked-looking blade from a slot in his armor and began to work the grating free. After a few unsuccessful attempts he let out another curse. “How the kriff did you lot get in there to begin with?”

    It was Keo who answered. “Sir. We came in from an entrance in another sector, sir.”

    The soldier sighed, but No-Name spoke next. “Risky, get on my shoulders. Maybe we can push it from our side and help him out.” The hum of lightsabers while they arced through the air was almost tangible, as was that of droid steps mixing with the footfalls of the two Jedi above their heads. Zara watched as Risky clambered aboard No-Name's shoulders and the two boys began to push against the grating even as the adult clone wedged his knife in again. Shots of crimson were evident above his head, and Zara saw him duck more than once, his hand reaching for one of his blasters as if on impulse.

    Kalinda?” His voice was faint but anxious over the sounds of battle even as he wriggled the blade along the side of the grate.

    There was a moment before the Jedi replied; Zara could feel her agitation in the air along with the sharp scent of hot carbine. I thought that Jedi weren't afraid of anything.

    There's too many of them,” she called. “Trax...new plan: stealth's not really an option any longer. Get down there and get those kids to safety. We'll catch up with you as soon as we're finished here.” At that moment the grate popped free and the clone trooper slid it to the side.

    Master Tallis sounded alarmed. “Kalinda....”

    A new blaster sounded with a keening shriek and Zara barely heard the unfamiliar Jedi speak again. “Honi, we can't have them in the middle of this and we'll need to provide cover. Trax?”

    The clone trooper muttered something that Zara couldn't make out but he waved the cadets out of the way as he slid down beside them into the ventilation shaft. Soon he was hunched over and seemingly unaware of the way that the younger clones were gaping at him. “Come on,” he said to the boys and Zara, casting a last look above them. “Way out's over there.” The boys moved to follow him, except for No-Name, whose eyes were on Zara.

    Master Tallis?” She found that she couldn't move her legs as she watched the corridor above her head; where it had once been dark, the entire place was illumined by red streaks of the droids' fire along with the occasional green and yellow glow of the lightsabers. “Master?”

    The red-haired Jedi's voice was thick, even in the middle of combat. “Go, Zara. Traxis will see you to our ship. I'll meet you there, soon. I promise.”

    Zara blinked back tears. You should never make a promise in wartime.

    Then there was a hand on her shoulder. No-Name gave her a small smile. “Come on, Commander. Time to move out.”

    *

    You will regret this.” The Kaminoan's voice somehow managed to cut through the shrieking alarm, causing Weave to clench his jaw even as he moved to the main computer.

    Stonewall had sheathed his lightsaber and was currently pointing his deece into Creon's back. “See any tranqs over there, vod? I'm tired of listening to his voice, and I'm pretty sure he set off that alarm somehow.”

    It only took a moment to scan the various hyposprays that were laid out on a nearby table for Weave to determine which one contained the toxin in question, the structure of chemical compounds made clear by the implant. This thing is kind of handy, I guess. He tossed the spray to the captain, who injected Creon and nodded with satisfaction as the Kaminoan slumped.

    Much better. How's it coming?”

    Weave had plugged in one of the datasticks he kept in his kit to Creon's workstation and was extracting what information he could. “I'm doing my best.” While he waited for the data to transfer he cast a glance at the clone boy, who appeared to be sleeping on the dust-covered floor while Stonewall ensured that their prisoner was secure. The alarm was so loud that he found it difficult to concentrate, but he was determined. “Can you see if he's okay?”

    In that moment, he noticed the captain's head tilting, as though he was speaking with one of the others and he almost put his own helmet back on. After a minute or two, Stonewall looked at him. “Milo's coming to help us extract these two. We'll need all the hands we can get.” There was doubt in his voice but Weave didn't question him as he gathered what material he could; a glance around showed him that this lab was not as well-equipped as Perdax had been, but the Kaminoan's work had evidently not been slowed by the lack of pretty quarters.

    Already there was so much information on this computer, he thought that it would take several clone lifetimes to go through. Good thing I brought a bunch of these things. When the first datastick was full he reached into his kit for another. Minutes later, after the sixth datastick, he detected a familiar form in the doorway: Milo.

    Stonewall seemed relieved. “Creon's unconscious, but we weren't anticipating the extra passenger.” He indicated the clone boy and Milo nodded, bending to scoop the boy up.

    Weave turned. “I've got him, Milo. Help the captain with Creon...I think I've collected all I can.”

    Then let's not hang around any more,” Stonewall said, bending to lift the unconscious form of the Kaminoan. Even with Milo's help, Weave could see that it was not easy; however, he had other things on his mind as he lifted the clone boy, who was heavier than he should have been and Weave was very careful not to jolt his arm. Moments later they were hurrying down the corridor as best they could, given the things they carried.

    *

    Even with her blaster it was a difficult fight. Kali tried to sink into the Force and allow her movements to be guided, but the droids kept coming. The alarm was starting saw at her brain and she could feel her old injury acting up in her knee. She wanted to contact Stone again, but her comm had been knocked loose and crunched beneath the feet of the droids and she was too focused on the battle to call him through the Force.

    However, a glance at her former apprentice showed her that Honi's skills with a lightsaber had only improved since they'd last seen each other, for which Kali was grateful. Honi's saber was a blur of green light and she moved with absolute confidence, sinking the blade into droid after droid without hesitation. It was a heartening sight, and Kali was able to find her own rhythm after several minutes. Finally, the droids stopped coming and they were able to finish off those that remained with ease. Both women were covered in sweat when they exchanged glances.

    Zara and the others....I can't sense them. Are you certain that your clone is reliable?”

    Kalinda bit back a retort. “I trust him with my life, Honi, as I do all of them.” She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths to gather her concentration. Stone?

    We have Creon and the boy. We're on our way out.

    She wondered at the boy but did not ask. We were set on by droids and had to send Trax off with Zara and the others. My comm's broken...have Mi and Crest finished their part?

    There was a slight hesitation before he replied. Milo's with us. We needed another pair of hands. Crest is nearly done. We'll see you at the ship. She sensed an acute pang of worry from him at these words, for all that he kept his thoughts neutral, but there was no time for her to concern herself with the feeling.

    Kalinda nodded and looked at her companion. “Let's go.” She pointed to the grate and watched as Honi slid down first, following her a moment later. They had gone perhaps fifty meters when they heard a booming sound echo through the facility, the sudden shuddering of the walls and floor causing them to stumble. The two Jedi exchanged glances and Kali felt the blood draining from her face. “Crest....he wasn't supposed to set them off until we're all clear.” She shut her eyes. Stone?

    His reply was grim. I don't know, Kali. I can't get a hold of him.

    There was a gentle touch on her shoulder. “Master. We have to go.” Honi's voice was quiet and Kali forced herself to push through her own tangle of agitation as they continued on.

    *

    Traxis tried not to grimace as the kids stumbled along behind him. It was dark, yes, and they were frightened, but he couldn't help but feel impatient with the entire situation. The fighting's going on somewhere else and I'm stuck babysitting. Naturally. He bit back his frustration as he heard someone trip; turning, he realized that it was Tallis' Padawan, who looked up at him with dark, wide eyes.

    I'm sorry,” she whispered. He could tell that she was shaking, and her voice was a breath away from tears.

    One of the clone boys stood beside her as if to offer support, but he said nothing, only glanced her way. In that moment, Traxis recalled a memory from his own boyhood – not so long ago, in the grand scheme of things – and found that some of his irritation fled as he looked at the Padawan. His first live-fire training session had been fatal to all but two of his group of eight brothers, and he recalled the moment that he'd completed the exercise and turned to congratulate all the others, before realizing that only himself and another boy had survived. Helplessness in the face of something much larger and more powerful than you....being young and inexperienced is pretty shabla bad; I didn't much care for it.

    It happens,” he said, schooling his voice to be even. “But we have to hurry. Here,” he held out his hand. Better to keep her close, anyway. Won't be good if this one gets lost again. She took his hand and he got an idea. “Everyone; take the hand of the fellow beside you. No one gets left behind.” He watched as they linked hands and nodded to himself. Looking down at the Padawan, he realized that she was staring up at him with awe. Her eyes were large and black, though they lacked the size of most Nautolans; her features were fairly humanoid and he wondered if she had Human or Twi'lek blood. “Now,” he said, keeping his voice as calm as he could as they set off again. “Let's get the kriff out of here.”

    As he'd expected the kids giggled, but the pleasant noise was overridden by the sound of a distant explosion; Trax felt the Padawan's hand tighten on his and he increased his pace. “It's okay,” he murmured. “We're almost there.”

    How do you know, sir?”

    He didn't know which of the boys had asked, but it didn't matter at the moment. “It's my job.” They hurried on. The ventilation shaft widened after a time and he found that he could stand upright with ease, which meant, he realized, that they were nearing its terminus. Presuming it isn't the one that opens directly onto the kriffing mountain, we'll be....

    Look out!” The Padawan jerked his arm just in time to prevent him from falling out of a loose bit of floor that revealed a black, yawning chasm. He took a breath and looked down at her.

    Thanks, Commander.”

    She nodded but said nothing. The explosions were growing worse; it felt like the entire mountain was starting to shiver, and as he blinked into his HUD, Traxis wondered why Crest had decided to set everything off so early. “Captain?”

    There was static for a moment before he got a distorted reply. “Trax....kids okay?”

    One hundred percent,” he said. “But I don't suppose you know what's up with Crest? All those fireworks are making things annoying down here.”

    Exit blocked?” The captain ignored the mention of Crest, which did nothing for Trax's nerves.

    He glanced at the open air; below him he could only make out dark mountainside. “You could say that. You could also say that a jetpack would be pretty handy right now.” The mountain shook again and he frowned. “Did the plan change?”

    Stonewall's voice was grim. “I don't know right now...no contact with Crest. Can you circle back?”

    Negative. Booms are coming from that way.” There was a hiss of static, then nothing. “Captain? Stonewall?”

    Silence.

    Kriffing son of a shabla nerf-herder. Traxis took a deep breath and glanced at the mountainside again. It was a long way down, but there was a narrow canyon that separated the area with where they'd left the Wayfarer and his current position. If we could cross, it's be easy as uj-cake to make it to the ship. Pretty big if. He sighed again and glanced at the kids, all of whom were staring up at him as if he was magical. Another look at the canyon.

    It's not too wide. I think my cable could reach across...of course, there's the little matter of the fact that it's not just me at stake here. The weight of their lives seemed to fold over him, compounding his decisions into a knot of uncertainty. If I screw this up...

    But one of the boys, the one who'd stuck by the Padawan, seemed to catch his train of thought. “We can do it, sir,” he said with a nod to the chasm. The others nodded as well, their voices a chorus of agreement even as the mountain shook again. Small pieces of rock began to clatter to the floor, bouncing around their feet.

    We don't have a choice. Not one that I can see, anyway. Traxis nodded; on a whim he took off his helmet and bent down on one knee to meet each of their eyes. “I'm going to fire my cable across the canyon,” he said, keeping his voice measured. “And once I know it's safe, I'm going to send you across, two at a time.” He glanced at the girl. “Commander, do you think you can use the Force to help us out? Just in case?”

    Her pale blue skin had faded to a sickly gray. “I...I think so...”

    She looked small and terrified, and he felt for her, but now simply wasn't the time to give in to fear. He tried to think what Kalinda would do in this situation and reached forward to pat her back awkwardly. “I know it's hard, Commander, but you need to trust yourself.” She nodded, but her hands were clenched and her tentacles – or lekku or whatever they were called – trembled.

    But after a moment the girl closed her huge eyes and her face transformed into an expression that told Trax she was grasping for the Force.

    So he stood up and replaced his bucket; he took a minute to scan the other side to search for what would hopefully be a stable area. Not my best plan, but I don't know what else we can do. He lifted his deece and activated the grappling cable, taking another moment to aim. His finger rested on the trigger and he willed his hands to stop shaking.

    As he squeezed, the mountain started coming down around them.

    *

    Stonewall felt the blast before he saw it; an intense heat that seemed to sear right through his armor while also knocking him off of his feet. He felt Milo go down as well, Creon's body falling to the metal floor as they dropped him. Part of his brain still wondered at Crest's whereabouts, but he couldn't expend too much energy worrying about things that were beyond his control in this instant, so he focused on picking himself up. There was burning in his legs and his arms, but he was able to get to his feet, helping Milo as well. “Weave?”

    We're okay.” His brother had managed to duck behind an alcove, the boy still limp in his arms. “But let's not linger.”

    Right.” After picking up Creon they began to run again even as the entire place shook and shuddered. Stonewall tried to call Kali, but it was useless. He could hardly hear his own huffing breath above the shrill alarm and the sound of explosions. There was another distant blast, but this time they were able to keep their feet.

    Weave called out. “I think the front entrance is over here, according to the blueprint.” His head tilted to indicate a direction, so Milo and Stonewall followed as fast as they could. Indeed, a moment later Stonewall could make out a door of some kind; naturally there were droids clustered in their path.

    Without pausing to consider anything but what the necessary outcome of the situation needed to be, he dropped Creon, reached for his saber and leaped ahead of Weave and Milo to block the droids' fire. As if moving of its own volition, his body shifted and spiraled to avoid the shots of crimson while the saber deflected them. Now I understand what Kali meant. There was no thought in his mind besides clearing the way for his brothers; part of him watched in wonder as the droids fell before the glowing blue blade like melting butter until there were none left standing.

    Where the way had been blocked, it was clear now and his brothers made their way to his side. While Milo stood by the panel, Stonewall plunged the blade in the door, cutting a way out as he'd done with Kalinda's saber so long ago on Japarran. He waved Weave through first, then Milo, who was hunched over as he dragged Creon with him.

    As Stonewall moved to help Milo lift the Kaminoan again, he caught a familiar presence: Crest. Wounded but alive.

    He shouted at the others to go on even as he leaped back inside, intent on finding his brother. Despite the fact that he must have come from another sector altogether, Crest was not far away. When the captain approached him in the darkness, Stonewall noted the lack of a bucket, the extensive carbon scouring on his armor and the pained look on his face as he stumbled to his knees.

    Blasted battle droids ambushed me.” The bald clone's voice was odd and calm. “I'm sorry, Captain. One of them stepped on the detonator once it fell from my hand....set off all the charges.” He gave a weary laugh even as Stonewall helped him to his feet; it was still difficult to think through the blare of the alarm, but the clone captain was determined to see his brother to safety.

    Come on, vod,” he said as they began to amble for the door. “Let's go.”

    No,” Crest shook his head. “You don't understand....there's more.” His voice was fading to a whisper and he stumbled again.

    Before Stonewall could ask him what he meant, the floor below the clones groaned. The walls folded and the ceiling rushed to meet them in a shower of heat and fire.

    *

    Another cliff-hanger? Yup. :p


    If you can complete the quote from the chapter title, I'll give you an internet cookie! (Hint: it's a blues song. And a kriffing good one, at that.)
    gracesonnet likes this.
  13. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    I'm terrible with song titles but I bet I've heard it on supernatural before. Also, don't die, Crest! I have a soft spot for snarky weapons-expert clones.

    Ohh! Is the chapter title from Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign"?
    Which I don't think was used on Supernatural as a song (they tend to favor more rock and classic rock songs) but a season 2 episode was titled, "Born Under a Bad Sign." And it was about being possessed by a demon!
    http://supernatural.wikia.com/wiki/Born_Under_a_Bad_Sign

    I know that has nothing to do with Star Wars or this fic but I'm just pleased I knew how to Google.
    Last edited by gracesonnet, Aug 4, 2014
    laloga likes this.
  14. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet: YES! You are correct about the song! =D= [face_party][face_dancing]Internet cookies for you! :D And don't worry about Crest; I have a soft spot for him as well. ;) Thank you for the comment!


    *****
    Chapter Nine: Storm Surge
    1081 days ABG

    Kalinda let out a curse when she saw that the way Traxis and the children had gone was blocked by chunks of rock too thick for any saber to cut through, and another after she realized that there was no time to coax the Force and create a new path through the rubble. Blast...we'll have to double back. She indicated her intention to Honi and the two women began to hurry down the corridor, the sound of their footsteps muffled by both the alarm and the explosions that were growing louder and more frequent. Something's really wrong...Crest knows better than to set those dets off before we're all clear. Worry for the bald clone flared within her, but Kali pushed it to the side in order to deal with the present.

    As she recalled the building plans, she thought that perhaps there was an adjacent passage that might lead to an exit and she came to an abrupt halt. This wall is durasteel...it must be one of the main supports. If that's the case, then we might be in luck.

    Master?” Even through the piercing klaxon, Honi's voice was doubtful as she watched Kali run her hands along the wall. “What are you.....”

    Kalinda's saber ignited with a hiss, the glowing yellow beam a comfort in the darkness. Taking a moment to reach out with the Force to get a sense of the next room – free of enemies – she plunged the blade through the wall, watching with satisfaction as the saber's touch caused the durasteel to peel back like the skin of a glowing, orange fruit. Carefully, Kalinda made her way through, taking another moment to ensure that the new corridor was still safe. Once she was satisfied, she glanced back at her former Padawan. “Don't burn yourself on the sides.”

    I'm not a youngling, you know,” Honi muttered as she stepped through the makeshift doorway and into the next hall, identical to the one they'd just come from. “Where are we going?” They stood in the middle of an empty corridor; Kali closed her eyes and reach into the Force again, trying to determine the best way out of the facility. Everything around her was shaking and she could feel the air growing uncomfortably warm.

    Except to the left. That feels different. And if my memory of the plans are correct, that should lead us near an exit as well. Her eyes snapped open. “This way.” As they ran, she glanced at her old apprentice. “Doesn't this remind you of that mission to Caldera?”

    Oh yes. That was about as much fun, even though there were fewer explosions.”

    The Force did not let them down; soon they had reached another door that opened onto the plateau of rock on which the facility was situated. After checking to make sure that no one was pursuing them, the Jedi slipped through the door and began to race across the rocky ground, the wail of the alarm fading away as they moved. The air outside was frigid and in constant motion, a stark contrast to the stuffy heat of the facility; just as they were both clear of the building, the grumbling sounds of explosions grew even stronger and Kali realized that the entire thing was getting ready to collapse. “We have to get to the ship so we can rescue the others.”

    Honi glanced around, her mouth dropping open once her eyes fell on a sight behind them, beneath the facility. “Look....” She pointed to a white-armored figure that appeared to be testing a cable of some kind strung across the chasm below. Clustered around him were the clone cadets and Zara's pale-blue form. “That's your trustworthy clone? He's going to kill them all!”

    Gritting her teeth, Kali all but shoved her former apprentice to the direction of the ship. “Get the Wayfarer and search for the others. I'll help Trax with the kids. Pick us up as soon as you have them.” Without waiting for a reply she rushed to the edge of the chasm, ignoring the pounding fury of her heart as she reached the place where he'd sent the cable. She gripped the slender length of durasteel: it was secure and she knew that it would hold them. Traxis had spotted her and appeared to be speaking into his comm. Kali shook her head and cupped her hands to her mouth, letting the Force carry her words to him. “I'm here to help, Trax. Send them across.”

    I only hope we have enough time.

    *

    Every day I learn something new....today's lesson is that shabla Kaminoans are a lot heavier than they look. Creon was still out cold and Milo found that he was hard-pressed to drag the aiwha-bait's dead weight to relative safety. If you can call it that when it sounds like the entire mountain is falling down around us.

    He glanced at Weave, who was still clutching the clone boy as though his life depended on it. “Help me.”

    Though his brother hesitated, he made his way over to Milo after a moment, keeping the boy in one arm while he bent over Creon's unconscious form to tug at his limbs. They began to pull the Kaminoan away from the facility, perhaps going twenty meters when they heard a much closer explosion than before. Milo looked up and felt his heart skid to a halt beneath his armor as he watched the entrance from which they'd just come erupt into flames. At that point he might have shouted the captain's name, but he really couldn't be sure. Weave grunted something and dropped Creon into a pile of rubble; the Kaminoan's pale skin had become coated with soot and dirt.

    For a moment they stood and stared while they caught their breath. Finally Milo shook his head. “I'm going back.”

    Mi...” A hand on his arm tried to hold him in place.

    The younger clone shook his head. “I'm not leaving them. Stay here with the boy and Creon...I think you're far enough away.” Without waiting for his brother to reply he began to race back to the building, ignoring the heat that began to lap against his armor as he approached. It may not be so tough where the body-glove peeks out, but if our kits will protect us from open space for a brief time, they'll keep the others safe in there. I hope.

    There was smoke and fire licking the threshold before him. Milo leaped through without hesitation.

    *

    Zara had never considered herself to be afraid of heights, but she found that it was difficult not to think about falling when one's legs were suspended over what looked like a blank and massive chasm. Part of her wanted to shut her eyes, but the logical, Jedi-portion of her brain urged her to remain calm and focused, and to keep her gaze ahead. Behind her, she could feel No-Name's agitation as clearly as if it were her own, for all that he was silent. Across the empty air she could make out a dark-haired figure – Kalinda Halcyon – standing as if transfixed, hands raised. That was when she felt it; the gentle press of the Force against her body, cushioning her and No-Name and making it easier to move. She heard his exclamation of wonder and smiled inwardly.

    The length of durasteel wire looked too slender to be able to support both of them, but she knew better. Traxis had made everyone remove their belts and use them to slide over the top of the wire after he'd ensured that the material was strong enough to hold their weight. But it was still an incredibly risky venture, and they all knew it.

    Which was why, when the Jedi appeared, relief had coursed through Zara as surely as the harsh wind that seemed to desire nothing more than to rip her loose from her place on the cable, despite her earlier attempts to steady herself and No-Name with the Force. The moment her boots touched solid ground she exhaled and turned to help the cadet, who seemed torn between staring at the adult Jedi, making sure that the next group of his brothers were getting across okay and...well...her. She pulled him to the side, watching as Master Halcyon nodded to her once before placing her focus on the next set of boys – Keo and Finn – both of whom had taken almost eagerly to setting their lives in the hands of the Jedi.

    No-Name glanced at Zara. “Wow. Will you be able to do that one day?”

    Master Tallis has spoken of Master Halcyon with nothing but respect. She watched the Jedi Knight and sighed. “If I'm very, very lucky.”

    *

    After Weave watched his brother race back into the building, he looked at the somnolent boy and shuddered at the sight of the intricate wires that criss-crossed over his arm. Is that what he would have done to me, next? His gaze turned to Creon's rock-battered form, still out cold, and he felt a thrill of anger pierce him as he watched the rise and fall of the Kaminoan's thin chest.

    I can get by, he realized. It's been hard, but I know that I can deal with it – somehow. But this kid? The other kids? How will they be affected by all this? Will they ever be able to have a normal life? He was not even aware that he'd drawn his blaster until he was aiming it at the Kaminoan's head. After what he did to them, Creon doesn't deserve to live. His finger rested on the trigger even as the boy shifted in his arms.

    Don't worry, adiik,” Weave said in a low voice. “He won't hurt you any more.”

    But something stilled his hand, some quiet feeling that he'd almost forgotten in the wake of his own misery. Not that I haven't killed before, but this would be cold-blooded murder. He could feel the steady heartbeat of the modified boy, even through his armor, and wondered at his own actions. Am I any better than Creon if I kill him like this? He looked up at the facility, glowing like umber against the darkness of the mountain. I should just leave him to rot on this rock. He deserves to die, but I don't want to be a murderer. I don't want to be a monster, too.

    However, despite his brain's logic, the hand on the trigger of his deece was eager for the Kaminoan's blood. It was an unsettling feeling. His finger twitched and his eyes narrowed; with the implant he could see just how extensive was the bruising on Creon's body, and catch the weak pulse that was beating from his heart.

    I can't do it.” He did not realize he'd spoken aloud until the boy shifted again, as if in response to the words. Weave looked down at his face – so familiar – and thought that he looked peaceful.

    Then he heard the unmistakable whine of the Wayfarer, a moment later feeling the brush of displaced air at his back as the ship hovered beside him, about two meters from the ground. He turned; he could just barely make out the red-haired Jedi in the cockpit, frowning at him as though he were the bad guy. She lifted her hand in a gesture that clearly meant come on. Weave looked at Creon again but turned away, making the short leap to the lowered ramp with ease.

    The moment he was on board she began shouting at him. “Where are the others?”

    Still inside.” He moved to the helm and pointed at the entrance to the facility. “There...” They both winced as another blossom of flame sprouted from the building.

    General Tallis gritted her teeth as she scanned the area. “There's no sign of them.” She began to maneuver the ship away, causing Weave to gape at her in shock.

    What are you doing?” He clutched at the clone boy as if he were a lifeline.

    But the Jedi didn't spare him a glance. “Saving the others. Set the child down in your room for now.”

    Weave was gripped with helpless anger; stepping forward, he grasped the edge of her chair with his free hand. “And the captain? Milo? Crest? You're just going to leave them?”

    The red-haired Jedi closed her eyes once, but shook her head. “I have to help who I know can be helped. Right now the others need us.” The ship had made its way back around and Weave could see a cluster of children beside Kalinda while Traxis and another, smaller figure slipped across the canyon on a slender cable. “Are you deaf? Set the boy down and help your brothers.” Even as she spoke the harsh words he saw her eyes fall on the cadet and thought for a moment that he detected grief within her gaze.

    Helpless. Helpless. Stonewall, Crest and Milo. Weave felt like his throat was choking with ashes but he did as she said, sinking into the familiar ease of following orders when thinking became too painful. Minutes later, when the boy was in his bunk, he stood at the ramp and helped the others inside. Kalinda was last and when she met his eyes he realized that somehow she knew about Stonewall and his brothers.

    He expected sorrow. He expected anger.

    What he did not expect was a gleam of ferocity that he had never seen in her before as she called to the other Jedi. “Go back.” Something in her voice that made Weave think that there was nothing able to stand in her way, and for a moment he almost pitied the fire, the mountain, and anything else that would dare come between the dark-haired woman and those she loved. General Tallis obeyed her former master and the ship returned to the front of the building within moments.

    But there was only fire.

    *

    After they'd managed to avoid the worst of the collapse, Stonewall was peripherally aware of the pain in his body as he divided his attention between Crest, finding a way out of the maze that was this place, and using the Force as much as he could without rendering himself unconscious. It was hot, so hot all around them, even through the armor; breathing was hard, as it only brought searing heat into his lungs along with what little oxygen the fire had not consumed, and he wondered if his suit was even working properly at this point. Everything hurts, especially my legs. And my arms. How hot does plastoid get before it starts to melt?

    The only comfort was the Force guiding his steps and providing a bit of direction through the firestorm.

    Crest was slipping in and out of consciousness, which was not conducive to making an efficient exit, but Stonewall was hard-pressed to worry about such details at the moment. His only thought was to keep moving, even if it meant dragging his brother, though it had thankfully not yet come to that. At some point he'd ignited the lightsaber again, if only to provide a focus other than the flames around them; the blue beam of energy was a heartening sight through maelstrom of fire and smoke.

    At one point they ran into a wall so he cut a way through it, realizing a moment later that he had no idea in which direction they were headed. Not good. I need to get a grip. We might be running in circles. If only I could think straight for one second... He coughed beneath his bucket and it dawned on him that his suit was no longer filtering toxins from the air. Really not good. Crest sagged at his side, his feet dragging against the floor.

    And then the Force whispered in his ear, alerting him to a new presence. Milo. He came back for us. Stonewall teetered between anger and gratitude, but decided to sort out the emotions later as he was too dizzy to even form the simplest speech. Milo slipped under Crest's other shoulder and pointed in the direction from which he'd come, indicating the way out.

    In the back of his mind, as they stumbled, Stonewall was pleased that the Force had guided him towards the exit after all.

    As if seeking revenge for their intrusion, the fire became more ravenous; Stonewall could feel it licking up his legs and gnawing through his armor. It was growing harder and harder to walk, which made him wonder if the floor was melting beneath his feet; after a few minutes of nothing but smoke and heat, only his brothers' presences in the Force and his own pain let him know that he was still alive.

    Not for much longer, I think. The realization was not a blaster-bolt. It was a shadow slipping over his mind, a cloud moving across the sun.

    But it was not to be. At once he felt her, warm in a way that was wholly different from the searing flames and he realized that he and his brothers were ensconced in a bubble of Force-energy that Kali was wielding like most Jedi did their sabers. He felt her protection like an embrace, felt her presence in his thoughts as surely as if she were by his side.

    And then she was.

    Hang on, Stone. It'll be okay. She sounded calm and he allowed himself to relax a little bit now that she was there. When she took his free hand and began to guide him towards the exit, he focused on the dark tangle of her hair, noting that the edges of her braid were singed and smoldering. His hand lifted to snuff the bits of fire that had reached her, but she turned and gave him a chiding look, incongruous amidst the smoke and flames. Not now, Stone.

    Right. He tried to smile but his face hurt. Her hand squeezed his as she lead them to the exit, to the open air, which was when he stumbled to the ground and slipped into unconsciousness; the last thing he heard was the mountain crumpling in on itself behind them.

    *

    Once they were free of the facility, Kali nearly fell under Stone's weight as he passed out, Crest and Milo not far behind him, the latter coughing from the smoke. She called to Traxis and Weave, who were waiting to help her, along with the boys, all of whom had become fonts of sheer determination when they saw their injured brothers. Honi kept the ship close enough but it was still not easy to move three unconscious, grown men from the rocky ground onto the ramp of the Wayfarer, even with the help of the Force. The moment the last of the clones was inside, Kali called out to the helm. “Honi...get us out of here.” She thought that her own voice sounded very small when laid against the dying mountainside.

    Weave had a hypospray out to dull what pain he could while the boys and Traxis dragged the injured men to the interior of the vessel. “Creon...?” From the lowered ramp they both looked down, the wind tearing at them as the ship lifted away. The ground below had transformed into seething rock and Kali watched as the pale body of the Kaminoan was engulfed in the press of mountain. She reached out with the Force.

    Nothing.

    When she murmured the word, Weave smiled.

    Zara's voice came from the ship's interior. “Master Tallis says that you need to come inside now. We're about to reach atmo.”

    Come on.” Kali touched Weave's arm and they made their way back up the ramp, which began to shut behind them, the hydraulics hissing as the hatch sealed.

    Inside it was barely controlled chaos. From her place at the helm, Honi was shouting to the cadets to set the clones on the sleeping pallets in the common area and they were scrambling to follow her orders. Traxis caught Kalinda's eyes but she looked at Weave. “Help Honi. Trax; you're with me at the helm.”

    The scarred clone nodded. Kali approached the helm and slid into the seat that Honi had abandoned once she'd heard the dark-haired Jedi's words. The ship tilted for a moment but Kali righted it immediately, glad to have something else to focus on besides the overwhelming pain and fear that she'd felt from Stone and his brothers. Part of her wanted to talk to the cadets she'd been so fixated on for the past months, but now wasn't the time. She glanced around and noticed that Zara was standing near Traxis, agitation on her face.

    How are you with comlinks? I need to contact the Republic ship Infinity immediately; we need help. Should be the last transmission that was made.” She sensed relief from the girl at having a task as she began to enter the necessary codes. “Trax, flip on our distress beacon, please.” Just in case.

    *

    Zara cleared her throat and tried to speak in the calmest, most Jedi-like tone she could manage, given the circumstances. “Infinity, this is the Republic vessel-” she froze and looked up at Traxis, who whispered the name of their ship. “-Wayfarer, requesting assistance.” She said the phrase a few times, her voice growing more confident with each repetition. Behind her she could hear her master and the other clone working over the injured troopers.

    It felt like it took hours, but finally she received a reply. “Republic vessel Wayfarer, this is the Wookiee Gunner; we've been asked by the Infinity to monitor your channels.” The voice was male but that was all she could make out over the comm.

    The Wookiee Gunner? I've never heard of that ship. “Master Halcyon, do you know them?” The dark-haired Jedi nodded; her jaw was tight. Zara swallowed as she glanced at the navacomputer and gave their position.

    Moments later the Wookiee Gunner replied. “Stand by, Wayfarer. Continue on your heading....we're about an hour away.”

    Please hurry....we have wounded.” Zara thought that her own voice sounded more like a squeak and she winced.

    But whomever she was speaking with didn't seem to notice; his tone was reassuring in a way that reminded her of Master Yoda, even though it sounded more Human. “I know, child. We'll be there as soon as we can. The Force is with you.” The transmission ended.

    There was a pause before Traxis cleared his throat. “Why don't you go to the conservator and get some water for the others?” He looked at her in the reflection of the viewport and she nodded gratefully.

    As she headed to the rear of the ship, careful to keep her eyes away from the injured, she heard Master Halcyon's voice, barely a whisper. “Thanks, Trax.”

    *

    Traxis wasn't a healer. He had little patience for other living beings, which was definitely not the best trait with wounded. In the reflection of the viewport he could see General Tallis and Weave working over the others: the clones' armor had been peeled off and carried out of the way by one of the lads and they were currently cutting out portions of his brothers' body-gloves, revealing the places where the plastoid had not proved an effective deterrent against the fire. Trying not to grimace, Trax could make out seared flesh on the limbs of the captain and Crest, which seemed to be where the worst of the damage had occurred.

    Milo looked to be in better shape, from what he could tell – which wasn't much – but he was still unconscious. Hopefully just from the drugs they've given him.

    Thank you, Commander Zara,” one of the lads spoke up as she handed him a glass of water and Traxis let out a breath.

    Good girl.

    Beside him, Kalinda caught his eye again. “I didn't know you were so good with younglings, Trax.” Her tone suggested that she was as anxious as him to not think about what was happening behind them.

    The lads were easy,” he said with a shrug. “Wasn't that long ago I was one of them, I guess, though it feels like a lifetime, now. The girl...” He frowned. “The commander, I mean. Well, everyone needs something to focus on during times like this, don't they? And she seems like...” Like a feather would knock her over.

    Kalinda nodded. “I know.” She paused and her eyes flicked towards the viewport before her, catching the reflection of what was happening behind them, and he saw her go even more pale.

    Traxis cleared his throat. “The boys seem to be okay, though they'll need baths and some proper food before they'll look Human again.” He had noted how shaggy their hair was and the filthy tunics that they were each wearing. Anger pierced him at the thought of their treatment by Creon, and he let it surface because it was better than thinking about the condition of his squad-mates.

    Again, she nodded; the movement was jolted. “We'll get them sorted out soon, Trax.” After a moment her hands tightened on the helm and she seemed to gather her strength before looking back. “What's going on, Honi?”

    It was Weave who answered. “Milo's okay, Kalinda. He's a bit roughed up – tried to breathe a little too much smoke – but fine otherwise. Crest and the captain....”

    Kalinda's hands were white on the helm as General Tallis broke in. “Stable, for now, but they need bacta tanks.” She sounded exhausted.

    Sometimes it seems like the Force isn't good for much. Traxis tried not to frown, as his life had been saved many times by the strange energy, but at the moment his patience with the mystical was stretched thin.

    But then Kalinda spoke and he could hear the fear in her words, which made him a little ashamed of his annoyance. “Can either of us help?”

    Tallis paused. “No, Master. The Force has done all it can for them right now. Are we rendezvousing with the Infinity?”

    The Wookiee Gunner, sir,” Traxis replied, as Kalinda didn't look like she could speak at the moment. “They should meet us within an hour.” He swallowed and shot the Jedi beside him a look, but direced his words at the Healer. “Will it be enough time?”

    It will have to be, won't it?” The red-haired Jedi's voice did not sound at all confident and Traxis' fists balled.

    *****

    A/N: I know, another cliffhanger! :oops:And Order 66 hasn't even happened yet!



    FYI, The Wookiee Gunner is a ship from the Traviss novel, No Prisoners. If you're familiar with that book, you can guess who's coming to rescue our intrepid heroes.

    Thank you for reading! [:D]
  15. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    I just read No Prisoners a few weeks ago! Poor Zara. Everyone needs a hug right now.
    laloga likes this.
  16. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2

    @gracesonnet: It's a great book, isn't it? I should totally re-read it... And yes, I'm sure everyone would appreciate a hug right now! [:D] Thank you for the comment. :)


    *****
    Chapter Ten: Wonders of This World
    1081 days ABG

    The Wookiee Gunner was only an unassuming freighter but Kalinda thought that she was never quite so relieved to see any ship in her entire life. They paused the Wayfarer's motion long enough to allow members of the Jedi Master, Djinn Altis' ship to board, as Honi didn't want to move any of their injured just yet. After setting Traxis at the helm with Zara at the navacomputer beside him for the moment, Kali went to speak with the new arrivals.

    Honi's face was red and her hair was a mess, but she looked just as relieved as Kalinda felt to see another Jedi even as she knelt over Crest. “They're stable, but we'll need some bacta tanks as soon as possible, Master Altis.”

    The elder Human male nodded, his eyes resting on the unconscious clones stretched out in pallets on the floor. Already some of his crew – a Twi'lek male and an Ithorian female – were distributing bacta patches and Kali felt the knot in her chest relax a fraction of an inch. Weave rose from his place beside Honi to speak with her. “The other boy...the one that Creon dabbled with....he's in my bunk.”

    She gave him a startled look. “Dabbled? You don't mean....” Most of the blood drained from her face as he nodded, his implant glinting in the light.

    Yeah. He's out cold, thanks to the captain's Force-trick. I'm not sure....” Weave swallowed and shook his head. “I'm going to check on him.”

    Kali nodded and watched him slip off. Her eyes fell on Master Altis, who was regarding her. A subtle tilt of his chin indicated that they should speak privately, but she shook her head. “Master...we need to head to the nearest base...”

    There's nothing out here, Kali. We were returning from relief efforts on Vena, on our way back to my praxeum ship, the Chu'unthor, ” He looked down at the clones. “We're only hours away.” Lifting his comm, he began giving directions to the Wookiee Gunner before crossing to the helm to speak with Traxis.

    As she felt the Wayfarer begin to move again, Kali took a deep breath and knelt besides Stonewall. Parts of his body-glove had melted, but it looked like Honi had gotten most of it off of his skin, which looked red and raw all over save for a few more severe areas that her former Padawan and Altis' people were in the process of bandaging. His lips were cracked and bleeding. She felt her heart tighten but swallowed her emotion, instead reaching to him through the Force.

    Stone?

    He did not reply, but she was able to get a sense of the jumble of his mind: fire, smoke, heat, rumbling...then her own face, aureoled and glowing with a light that had nothing to do with the flames. Love. It throbbed beneath it all and she put a hand to his cheek even as she felt her eyes prick.

    You're going to be fine, Stone. I don't know if you can hear me, but you're going to be fine. I love you. She pressed her other hand to his chest, over his heart, which was one of the few non-bandaged areas. The beat was weak but it was there and she exhaled, long and slow.

    He will be fine, Kalinda.”

    She glanced at her former apprentice who was watching her with interest. After she caught the other woman's eye, Honi looked back down at Crest. Kalinda followed her gaze and noted that he looked a bit worse than Stone, but he was breathing steadily and appeared peaceful. A hand touched her shoulder and she looked up to see Zara holding a glass of water. After a moment she reached for it, noting that the liquid within seemed to be trembling a little too much for the gentle motion of the ship. “Thanks, Zara.” She lifted the glass to her lips; the water was cool against her throat.

    The Nautolan girl inclined her head to the clone boys, who were hovering around Weave, asking him about their brother. “Thank you, Master Halcyon.”

    Still kneeling besides Stonewall, Kali turned to study them. As Traxis had said, they looked filthy and tattered, but their attitudes were animated while they talked to Weave. Though the elder clone looked a bit overwhelmed by the attention Kali noticed that he had not covered up his implant, and none of the boys seemed to even notice it. She listened and caught the hem of their words.

    ....Levy's going to be okay?”

    Weave radiated uncertainty but he nodded. “I think so. He's resting now, but you can see him soon.” Their disappointment was palpable, but the boys nodded and began speaking to one another in hushed voices while Weave moved to help Honi and Altis' crew.

    A sudden presence beside her made Kali look up; the Jedi Master was watching the cadets as well, his expression thoughtful. She did not rise from Stone's place and in a moment he came to kneel beside her, putting his hand on her shoulder. For several minutes they were silent. Finally she spoke. “They're alive. I can hardly believe it. After our search....after all those months....” She felt her eyes grow hot again and looked down at Stonewall. “They were almost left to rot in that place.”

    But you found them,” Atis replied, squeezing her shoulder.

    She wanted to answer. She wanted to at least give a nod of acknowledgment, as his words were true, but all that she could do was keep her hand pressed to Stone's chest and take comfort in the steady beat of his heart. But if we hadn't....would anyone have ever found them? As much as she knew the answer, she was loathe to admit it even to herself.

    *

    Part of Weave had felt like a bumpkin when he'd first stepped onto the Chu'unthor; his eyes had rounded and widened to take in the new sight as he followed Altis' people, the Twi'lek and the Ithorian, to the infirmary. A praxeum ship. A mobile Jedi Academy...never thought I'd see one of these. Well, I didn't even know it existed until a few hours ago. It was the largest ship he'd ever been on that wasn't a military vessel.

    They were walking through a wide, clean corridor to the ship's infirmary. It was quiet on the Chu'unthor, and his boots hardly made any sound on the floor. The infirmary was close to the hangar where they'd left the Wookiee Gunner and the Wayfarer, with good reason, and Master Altis had assured them that the facility was more than equipped to handle their wounded. Weave followed the hovering stretchers on which his three brothers were laid out; the modified clone boy – Levy – was, was still in his arms, as he'd refused to let anyone else take the child.

    Striding ahead of him through the brightly lit corridor that lead from the hangar to the interior of the massive ship, General Tallis was speaking in sharp tones to an elder Arunai woman with pale hair coiled neatly atop her head – the lead healer who'd met them once the Wayfarer had docked. “Mistress Upala, I understand that you have your own opinions, but in the case of burns of this nature I must stress that-”

    It's Honi, correct?” The lilting accent of the Arunai woman made Weave recall his squad's brief tenure on the planet, and he noted how her voice was calm as the group made their way through several turns; beyond the large transparisteel windows Weave could see black space and pinpricks of stars.

    There was a frown in the red-haired woman's voice as she replied. “Yes, but-”

    They had reached the infirmary at last and the staff that Altis had brought with him to the Wayfarer began easing the stretchers into the main room. It was spacious and brightly lit, as were most medical bays that he'd encountered, but this one had an open feel that was inviting rather than intimidating; breaking off from the main area that contained four bacta tanks were several rooms for surgeries or examinations, as well as a few smaller rooms where patients could recuperate.

    Upala stood in the center of the main room and directed the Twi'lek male where to set up the stretchers even as she interrupted the Jedi. “Your comrades will receive the best care, Honi. Please don't worry...I've been tending to wounded longer than you've been alive.”

    Levy stirred in his arms and he glanced down. Whatever Stonewall had done with the Force had long since worn off, but Weave had given the lad some tranquilizers – just in case. I don't like keeping him sedated, but I don't want to risk him 'attacking' anyone else until I have a better idea of what's going on. I only hope I can help him.

    General Tallis did not seem convinced by the Arunai woman's words. “Mistress Upala, field medicine is no substitute for proper treatment. How often do you calibrate your bacta tanks? I've found that the most effective-”

    Honi.” Until she spoke, Weave had almost forgotten that Kalinda was behind him, along with Traxis and the clone cadets. The other Jedi's voice made the red-haired woman glance back, her face drawn in a frown, for all that she fell silent.

    Mistress Upala cast Kalinda a grateful look before she spoke to the Twi'lek and the Ithorian, both of whom began preparing the clones for the bacta; several minutes later his brothers were floating peacefully in individual tanks, bubbles rising from their breathing masks even as Tallis fussed over the settings on the instrument panels before she turned to stay by Kalinda's side.

    They're adequate for now. I want to take a look at the cadet, though.” Her voice was calm but held no room for argument and the dark-haired Jedi nodded.

    After speaking to the Ithorian, the Arunai woman indicated the boy in Weave's arms. “Ressa will look over the other lads. Will you please bring him here?” She gestured towards a separate room that contained an examination table.

    Weave eyed it warily; it brought back very unpleasant memories for him and he thought that Levy wouldn't appreciate it either. As if sensing his discomfort – though he realized that he had no clue if Upala was a Jedi or not – she spoke to the Twi'lek male, who slipped out of the room, returning moments later with an assortment of blankets and pillows that he began arranging on the table. “We must examine him, Weave,” she said in a calm voice that was used to dealing with people who were frightened. “I promise he won't be harmed, but I would like to assess his condition.”

    I want to stay.”

    She nodded. The table was now covered with soft things that had no resemblance to anything in Creon's lab, so he thought it would be okay as he set the boy down as gently as he could, keeping a hand on his non-modified arm even as the Arunai woman ran through the usual motions of checking his pulse, temperature and reflexes. By contrast, General Tallis stood before him, eyes closed, hands outstretched over his slender frame with a look of stern concentration on her face. What is she doing?

    His confusion must have been evident, for Kalinda leaned over to Weave and whispered in his ear. “She's really quite gifted. Honi's using the Force to determine the extent of his...modifications.” Weave nodded but made no reply.

    Several minutes later, after both healers had finished their work, the Twi'lek assistant murmured something to Upala, who shook her head. “No, thank you Ares. Please see if Ressa needs help.”

    As she stood beside him, Weave could feel Kalinda's tension. After a moment she looked at him again. “I heard them say his name is Levy?” Weave nodded, his eyes not leaving the boy and she swallowed. “Can either of you tell exactly what Creon did to him?”

    Tallis' jaw was tight and she shook her head. “Save the...implant, he's in satisfactory condition, physically. I'm not sure, otherwise. This is beyond me.” Her brows were knitted and her voice wavered.

    The Arunai woman gave Kalinda a look that Weave could only think of as kind, but he could tell there was pity in her eyes as well. “Not the extent of it. I have some knowledge of cybernetics, but I've never seen anything like this.”

    Weave nodded. “It looks like a more advanced version of my own implant....I think it's connected somehow to his brain, as mine is. When the captain and I came across him he attacked us, like he was programmed or something.” He shuddered at the memory.

    He feels...” Kalinda knitted her brows. “Strange. Alien...like there's something else within him.” She shook her head in confusion and glanced at her fellow Jedi who nodded in confirmation.

    The nanogene droids,” Weave murmured, causing the women to look at him. “Creon tried to do something with them on Perdax – with an adult clone – but it didn't work. When I was collecting his notes on Sethos, I caught sight of a report.” Kalinda still looked confused so he elaborated. “Nanogene droids are microscopic devices that can be injected into the bloodstream; essentially, they 'reprogram' a living organism by taking it over on a cellular level. In Levy's case, I think Creon used them to help his body adapt to the implants.”

    Kalinda stilled as she stared at Levy, who was still unconscious as Upala bent over his implant, a pair of thick, magnifying goggles over her face; General Tallis had closed her eyes again and he thought that she was using the Force, perhaps to learn more about the nanos. Stepping forward as well, Weave was able to get a better look at the intricate network of wiring; with his implant he could magnify what he was looking at to take in every detail. “Wow...”

    What?” The dark-haired Jedi's voice sounded breathless.

    I may be wrong, but it almost looks like Levy can...plug in to a datajack,” Weave said, his brow furrowing as he took in the edges of the implant. “See that bit at the base of his hand?” Kalinda nodded, though she looked a bit pale; Weave hardly noticed. “I'll need to take a good look at all of Creon's notes, but it might be....” He frowned and shook his head.

    He's strong to have survived this,” Tallis said. Her eyes had opened and she was regarding Levy with an unreadable expression.

    This observation seemed to be too much for Kalinda to handle at the moment, as she turned and touched Weave's arm. “I'm going to check on the others. Let me know what you find out?” Her words barely registered, as his entire world had shrunk to the size of the fragile body before him.

    *

    Master Tallis had not even glanced at Zara before she followed the stretchers into the body of the Chu'unthor, towards the infirmary, and the apprentice was reminded of Orea. She's so different when she is acting as a Healer. The moment that someone needs help, she forgets everything else. Even her Padawan. She felt ashamed for feeling a spark of jealousy.....but there it was, mixed with the scent of anesthetic and cool bacta. Matters weren't much improved when her master did look her way at last.

    Zara, you and the others shouldn't be in here; you'll be underfoot.” As she said this, she unclipped Zara's lightsaber from her belt and passed it to the Padawan almost absently.

    Despite the fact that she was happy to have her saber back, her master's words words stung. However, Zara only nodded as she watched several of Master Altis' people move to the clones to begin prepping them for the bacta tanks while Kalinda and Weave followed another humanoid woman out of the room with the boy that Creon had modified; she noticed how the other clone boys watched their brother. Afterward, they were briefly examined by the Ithorian to ensure that they were uninjured; it appeared that they were healthy enough to not remain in the infirmary, but she could still feel their fear and anxiety for their brother. I guess I don't have it so bad. I'm alive and whole. That should be enough.

    Indeed, once the medical staff had gone, the only adults left behind with her and the cadets were Traxis and the Jedi Master Altis, of whom she'd only heard whispered rumors. He smiled down at Zara and the clone boys with the air of a kindly, elder uncle, not at all like any other Jedi Master she'd encountered. “Are you all hungry?”

    There was a chorus of “yes sir, General Altis,” which made the elder Human male chuckle as he lifted his hand and indicated that they should follow.

    However, Traxis held back, uncertainty flavoring the air around him. “I should stay with my brothers.” Despite his words, Zara could feel his discomfort as his eyes darted to the bacta tanks.

    Please stay with us, Traxis,” she said, meeting his gaze. I know I need to be more brave...but maybe not right now. Beside her, No-Name, Keo, Risky and Finn looked up at him as well, though they were too well-mannered to say anything Zara could feel that none of them wanted to be far from the scarred clone, who nodded at last, letting out a long sigh.

    Sure. I could eat.” He gave a noncommittal shrug but Zara could feel that he was a tiny bit pleased at their reaction, which made her smile more than anything else. No-Name caught her eye and gave her a wink, which made her cover her mouth to keep from giggling.

    Master Altis lead them to an inner section of the vessel and she marveled at how quiet it was, but it wasn't without activity. There was an aura of peace within the ship's bulkheads. Like the Jedi Temple, only I don't feel like I'm centimeters tall. Indeed, the Chu'unthor lacked the majesty of its Coruscanti cousin; it looked like it had seen better days but was comfortable in a way that the “proper” Temple had never quite been, at least for her.

    The cafeteria was small, but well-equipped and soon Zara and the others were seated at a long, wooden table while the adults went to fetch some food. She felt a little strange having a Jedi Master bring her meal, but found that she was too tired to care much at the moment. I could use a nice cool bath, then maybe a few days of sleep. At this, she looked at No-Name, who had taken the seat beside her on the slender bench. “What did Creon feed you? I never even asked.”

    He blinked at her once before he replied. “Nothing, Commander. Well,” he amended, pulling a face. “Nothing we wanted to eat. Nothing anyone would want to eat.”

    She gaped. “For how long?”

    Keo, who was on her other side, answered. “We were in stasis for...” His face screwed up in thought. “Five months. Just over, actually.”

    The pods broke down about two months ago,” Finn added. “That's when he put us in that cell.”

    Horrified, Zara stared from one to the other. “How did you survive if he didn't feed you properly?”

    Risky rolled his eyes. “We're troopers, Commander. We're trained to survive against all odds. Besides,” he waggled his brows at her. “The long-neck didn't think to take our emergency rations.” The other boys nodded and sat up straighter, obviously pleased with themselves.

    We got by,” No-Name said in a soft voice. “It's what we were taught to do, after all. And he did remember to have the droids give us water.” He gave her a small smile.

    Zara was prevented from commenting further when Traxis and Master Altis returned with trays filled with steaming plates that made her mouth water. She marveled at how the boys – who must have been starving – waited until the food was laid out before them and the adults were seated before reaching to help themselves in an orderly fashion. Even Padawans at the Temple would be shoving each other aside. She shook her head in wonder before taking a plate.

    While they ate, Master Altis questioned them in his gentle manner, seemingly as much at ease with a table full of cloned boys as he would be with other Jedi. “I heard that none of you were harmed during your stay with the Kaminoan. Is this true?”

    No-Name nodded, his eyes downcast. “Well, we're okay, sir. I wish I could say the same for our brothers who didn't make it out of the stasis pods. And Sergeant Motor.”

    And Levy.” Risky's face was set in a glower but Zara could sense his sorrow. “Do you know if he'll be okay, sir?”

    The Jedi Master paused to run a hand through his beard; the thought struck Zara that he was considering both the question and his answer. “I hope so,” he said at last. “He's in good hands now.” He glanced at Traxis, who was picking at the food on his plate, emanating a mixture of discomfort, fear and affection. “They are all in good hands, son.”

    The scarred clone nodded, his jaw tight. No one spoke for a moment until his brows knitted and he looked at the Jedi Master. “Sir, with all due respect, I can keep an eye on them if you have other things to take care of.”

    I'm where I need to be, right now,” Master Altis said with a smile as he watched the clone boys. His eyes fell on Zara at last, and she found herself warming to the Human man almost instinctively.

    Even though they're allowed to get married and have children, the Altisians are still technically Jedi; but he's nothing like any Master I've ever met. From all the talk at the Temple, you'd think he was a raving lunatic, but he seems....kind. A little humble, too. Indeed, he had also taken a bowl of food and was slurping a measure of soup with gusto, not seeming to notice that some had found its way into his beard.

    Again, No-Name caught her eye and they shared another quiet smile. Yes, she thought. Things could be a lot worse, considering.

    *

    Milo's last memory was staggering out the door of the facility besides his brothers, when he recalled being two things: very hot and very uncomfortable. Now, happily, he was neither. But I don't know where I am. Hopefully I'm alive. His eyes were closed and he tried to wriggle his fingers and toes, checking for injuries. Once he was satisfied that his feet and hands were in working order, he moved up to his wrists and ankles, then knees, elbows and so forth. Okay. I am alive, and despite the fact that I feel like five kinds of hell, I'm not really injured. That's a good start. But where the kriff am I?

    At first his eyes didn't want to open but he was patient; when he was finally able to get a look at his surroundings, nothing made sense and he couldn't make heads or tails of the room in which he'd found himself. Dim lights. Wide, open feel. I think I'm on a ship but this isn't the Wayfarer. He swallowed and tried to sit up.

    Milo.” It was Kalinda. The next thing he knew she was standing over him, her expression calm despite the fact that she was sporting a large bandage on her cheek and her left upper arm. He tried to speak but she shook her head and put a hand on his shoulder. “You're okay. We're on Master Altis' ship...he and his crew came to rescue us once we left Sethos.”

    He nodded, though there were still unanswered questions. But she was a Jedi, so he thought she knew and would tell him soon, if he was patient. “Here,” she said, handing him a glass of water with a slender straw. “You look thirsty.” As he drank she filled the gaps in his memory, which was trickling back the longer he was awake. “Stone and Crest were a bit worse off than you, but they're both out of danger now. A few more days in a bacta tank and they'll be good as new.” Her smile did not reach her eyes.

    The water was perhaps the best thing he'd ever tasted while also smoothing the way for his voice. “Are the boys okay? And General Tallis' Padawan?”

    Everyone's fine, Mi. Except Creon.” Her voice held a bitter edge and Milo knitted his brows. “He's buried beneath a few tons of Sethosian mountain right about now.”

    Trax must be disappointed,” he said, giving her a smile that she did not return. After a few moments of silence he frowned and she leaned forward.

    Are you in pain?”

    Looking down at the glass, he shook his head. “No...well, a little, but it's not bad.” After a moment he managed to meet her gaze. “Did the captain talk to you by any chance?”

    She studied him with dark eyes that – in his mind – missed nothing. “About what?”

    That's a no. “It's not important now,” he replied with another shake of his head. “Don't worry about it.”

    Does it concern your well being?” There was an inkling of a smile on her face and he sighed.

    Kind of... ” At her look he shrugged, the motion making him wince. “Okay. Here it is: I think I'm ready for a promotion and Captain Stonewall agreed to make a recommendation...but it will mean more if you make one as well.”

    She smiled at him, in earnest. “I'd be happy to, Milo.”

    You wouldn't be angry with me for leaving? Well, not angry,” he amended. Jedi and all. Don't think they're supposed to get angry, though I've seen her miffed once or twice. “Disappointed?”

    She shook her head and patted his arm. “Of course, I'll miss you, Mi, but that's the way life goes. The important thing is that you're doing what you want with the time you have. Your life is your own, after all; it's what I've been trying to show you and your brothers.” For a moment her voice sounded strange and distant; he got the sense that she wasn't speaking to him, but her eyes were on his in that unsettling but reassuring way that made him think she was looking inside his head and liking what she saw.

    I know,” he said with a nod. “That's kind of why I want to move on. I'll miss you all as well, but I really think I can offer more, you know?”

    The Jedi's voice was quiet. “If it's what you really want, Milo, then I'm behind you. One hundred percent. It's your life, your choice. You always have a choice.”

    Milo nodded again and studied the glass in his hand for a moment before looking back at her. “That's pretty much how the captain said you'd react. I guess I was worried for nothing.” He gave her a smile that she returned. “I'm sorry I didn't say something sooner, Kalinda.”

    Her shoulders lifted in a shrug. “I understand that change isn't easy, but it is necessary if you want to do more with what time you have.” Neither of them spoke for a moment before she cleared her throat. “Are you hungry?”

    As he opened his mouth to answer, his stomach let out an undignified snarl and there was a moment where they looked at each other before they started laughing. “Nah,” he said with a grin. “Me? Never.”

    *

    After she'd checked on Weave and made sure that Milo was brought some food, Kali made her way to the cafeteria to find Traxis and the children – that was a strange thing to think, for sure – happily stuffing their faces. As she did so, Master Altis gave her a look that indicated he wished to speak with her; moments later he had risen from his place beside the clone boys and they stepped out of the wide room, though he said nothing for a moment while they walked. The ship was so quiet, but the thought occurred to her that she'd forgotten what peace sounded like in the wake of the past few years.

    No, that's not true. I know that sound. In her mind it was the quiet rhythm of Stone's heartbeat beneath her ear while they slept in each other's arms.

    She thought again of the men under her command and also of those that she had never met, but felt she knew all the same. I suppose it's naïve of me to think that I can keep them all safe, or make the Council change their minds when we're mired so deep in the war. Perhaps I should focus on protecting those whom I can, for now. It was not a comforting thought, compounded by the fact that she was exhausted and there was still so much to do.

    Again her thoughts turned to Stonewall and felt an all-too-familiar pang in her chest at the memory of him floating in a bacta tank. His time is so short; it isn't right that such a good man should be cheated of a proper life. Even if we weren't...together, it still wouldn't be fair.

    Your men will be well looked after,” Altis said, the words lifting her from her reverie and making her realize that he'd been guiding her away from the infirmary. “But you should also rest, Kali.”

    She shook her head. “I need to check on Weave and Levy again, then I need to talk to Honi and make sure that she gets something to eat – she'll run herself into the ground before she'll stop – and I have to call the Temple as well. And I want to look in on Crest and Stone...” It was here that her voice broke and she stopped, pressing her hands to her eyes and fighting back the burning sensation that indicated she was about to start crying. No. I have to be stronger than this.

    Djinn Altis' hand on her arm was warm. “Come,” he said, indicating a nearby corridor.

    She lifted her head. “Where?”

    He smiled, the expression held nothing but kindness. “You must rest, child. Take your own advice.”

    I have too much to do.” She inhaled deeply and resumed walking, keeping her arms at her sides. They're all depending on me to see them through this; I have to be strong for all their sakes. I can't afford to waste one moment of their time.

    You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of those you love,” he replied. “I know that it is the way of the Jedi to offer everything you have to give, but if you want to stay alive to do the work that you do, you need to rest. At least eat something. Even young Zara knows that.”

    At the mention of Honi's Padawan, Kalinda closed her eyes. “I have to let the Temple know that she's okay,” she said. “Then I'll get some rest. I promise,” she added, lifting her eyes to his.

    And something to eat.”

    Even her face felt tired as she smiled. “Don't push your luck.” He returned the look and gestured that she follow him to the nearest communications array, where he left to speak with another person at the other side of the room. Within moments she had opened a secure channel to Coruscant, watching the display as the signal was routed.She waited until the green light flashed, indicating that it was time to record her message. Kalinda cleared her throat.

    Masters, I want to inform you that myself, Honi Tallis and Shadow Squad have successfully retrieved Padawan Zara Karell from her abductor: the Kaminoan scientists Creon Dai. He was killed during our rescue of Zara and the missing clone cadets – who were still in his custody – and although his lab was destroyed, we were able to salvage much of his research. However, several members of my team were severely injured during the rescue, and the children need to rest after their ordeal. We are in a secure location where I believe they will have the opportunity to do so. For now.”

    There was a pause while she considered her next words. “I know that this comes at an inopportune time, but I cannot in good conscious allow these children to undergo any further trauma at the moment. I will contact you again soon and keep you updated on their condition.” She bowed. “May the Force be with you.” After giving the numbers of the clone cadets for the GAR records, a slight lift of her fingers ended the transmission and she moved to the comm to ensure that it was sent without error.

    The moment her hand lifted from the device she felt a heavy weight pressing down upon her and the room began to grow dim and muffled. She was vaguely aware of Altis appearing beside her, guiding her out the door and down a nearby corridor.

    Then, darkness.


    *****

    A/N: The Wookiee Gunner, the Altisian Jedi and the Chu'unthor are all canon. I first came across them in the fantastic Karen Traviss novel, No Prisoners. As far as the EU is concerned, there are some discrepancies regarding Master Altis and his praxeum ship, so I did my best to make it all "fit" into this story as coherently as possible.

    Thanks for reading! :)
    Last edited by laloga, Aug 18, 2014
    gracesonnet likes this.
  17. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    A/N: Please pay attention to the dates, as we shift forward in time – just a bit – mid-chapter. Also, when I first posted this chapter on FFN, some folks got upset because there was no “warning” for the allusions of homosexuality regarding one of my OCs. If you care about such things, consider yourself warned.
    *****
    Chapter Eleven: Picking Up the Pieces

    1082 days ABG

    In addition to being a gifted, albeit non-Force sensitive healer, Upala had a technical knowledge that Weave was learning to appreciate more and more. Her assistant, the coral-skinned Twi'lek named Ares, was less informed, but determined to help in any way he could. For that, Weave was thankful, as it soon became apparent that Levy was scarred in ways that went beyond the series of wires and metallic parts on his arm.

    When the boy woke up, he was wild.

    There are few forces in the galaxy that can handle a frightened, disoriented Human – even a small one – who has been trained in innumerable forms of combat since birth, and Weave found that he was hard-pressed to keep Levy still so that he and Upala could examine what Creon had done to the lad. The blankets and pillows that Ares had stacked on the table were soon tossed to the floor of the infirmary as Levy writhed and kicked, fighting both Weave and the coral-skinned Twi'lek for all he was worth. But despite the struggling of his body his voice was absent; his eyes were wide and sightless and he seemed to be completely unaware of anything except his own, shuddering fear. Finally Upala had to sedate him again just so that he wouldn't hurt himself, and when Levy was sleeping once more, she looked at Weave, her pale eyes filled with sorrow.

    But he had little time for pity and did not let her say what he supposed she was thinking. “Do you think we can undo whatever Creon did?” Even though he thought he knew the answer, Weave couldn't keep himself from speculation.

    She looked at the boy; the lower half of his left arm was outfitted with lacy metal-work, much like Weave's own implant. “Some of it, perhaps. But the Kaminoan knew what he was doing....I'm not sure what has been done can ever be undone.” Her voice was soft and warm, but Weave felt his blood turn to ice anyway.

    On Levy's other side, Ares frowned. “We can't keep him sedated forever. You said that you gathered many of the Kaminoan's notes?” He looked at Weave, his expression optimistic. “Perhaps the answer lies there.”

    Of course. Should have thought of that first...maybe I'm more tired than I thought. The clone pulled out one of the datasticks from his belt and plugged it into the small port at the infirmary's computer; moments later the three of them were clustered around the screen while Weave scanned through the readout. “It's incredible...” he breathed. “It's so detailed....it's going to take me months to go through just what's on here.” And I filled how many of these things?

    What's that?” Upala pointed at a section of numbers and codes; Weave frowned.

    It looks familiar....” While he rubbed at his right eye with the palm of his hand, he cast his mind back for the answer; it came to him in a flash and he looked up at Upala, his eyes wide. “I think I know. It may be a long shot, but it's worth a try.” He turned to Ares. “Would you mind running an errand for me?”

    About a quarter of an hour later, the Twi'lek returned with the datapad from Weave and Milo's room on the Wayfarer. Weave held up the code against the screen and nodded. Milo's a kriffing genius. “See that? My brother said it's musical notes, and he's right. And there's a note here-” he pointed to the computer screen. “-that indicates that Creon was having trouble programming the nanogene droids with normal commands....what if he used music?” The pace of his words was quickening as his train of thought barreled ahead. “What if he used a simple melody like this in place of command codes?”

    Upala glanced from one screen to another. “Strange...but not out of the question.” She smiled at Weave. “You can read music?”

    He was hardly listening to her, but he nodded almost out of habit. “Kalinda taught us...we've all been playing music together for almost two years now.” Memories of long hours on the ship spent making music with his “family” came to him and he smiled even as he glanced at Ares again. “You don't happen to have a dulcimer on board, do you?”

    The Twi'lek sighed, though he was grinning as well; if Weave hadn't known any better, he would have thought that Ares looked rather pleased at something. “Very possible, but I'm guessing you have one on your ship, in case I can't find one?” Weave nodded and the Twi'lek moved to the door eagerly. “Then I'll be right back.”

    *

    For the first time in his recent memory, Traxis had nothing to do.

    Crest, Stonewall and Milo were in bacta tanks; Weave was in the infirmary with the clone boy that the aiwha-bait had “modified” – Trax thought that he would never be able to hear that word again without cringing – and he hadn't seen either of the Jedi for some time after Kalinda and Altis had left the mess. As he sat with the clone cadets and the Padawan, he noticed one of General Altis' pupils or followers or whatever they called themselves, the Twi'lek who had come with the Jedi when the Wookiee Gunner had met up with the Wayfarer, hurrying through the room, his face drawn in concentration.

    Despite his worry over his brothers and the lads, despite his agitation over their mission, despite the broad feeling of discontent that had sprung to his mind in the day after the rescue, Traxis noticed the coral-skinned Twi'lek in a way that was more distracting than anything else. It occurred to him that he'd never caught the fellow's name. Doesn't matter, anyway, he thought as he looked down at his plate. You're not here to flirt; you have a job to do, soldier. But still. He glanced up, thinking that the Twi'lek would have left the room already, but surprisingly, he had not, as he was speaking to one of his compatriots in the far corner. If Traxis had been a man of idle speculation, he would have thought that the Twi'lek's gaze fell on him for a brief moment before he hurried out of the room.

    Fierfek. I should get some rest, I suppose, if I've started hallucinating. But he was far from tired. Clones could go for much longer than most Humans without sleep – another by-product of the Kaminoans' genetic tinkering – and he found that he was reluctant to spend any more time in the infirmary, watching his brothers float around in tanks that were eerily similar to decanting jars, or listen to Weave attempting to sort out whatever the long-neck had done to Levy.

    So he remained in the mess – the cafeteria, he reminded himself – watching his young brothers' attempts to eat their weight in various foodstuffs. The clone found the situation peaceful in a way that he was wholly unaccustomed to. Not being shot at has its advantages, I guess. And the kids are entertaining to be around...kind of like hanging out with Crest, only with less crude jokes.

    Commander Zara had eaten her fill a while ago and was watching the boys with amusement as they continued to fill their boots. “Where does it all go?” Here in the gentle light of the Chu'unthor, Traxis could see that she was definitely not one hundred-percent Nautolan, though she certainly had the look: pale blue skin, large eyes that blinked but rarely, and a multitude of thick lekku that hung down her back. However, her features were more humanoid than the Nautolans he'd seen, and her lekku were not as numerous. He wondered if it would be out of line to ask about her parents, then realized that she probably didn't know them, anyway.

    The lad she'd spoken to – No-Name – smiled at her and patted his stomach with affection. “I'm giving it a good home.”

    As Traxis chuckled at this – the memory of being young and constantly starving was clear – he noticed the Twi'lek had re-entered the room, though his gait was a little too slow, a bit too casual, which made Trax's stomach do an interesting, if annoying flip. Again, the Twi'lek approached another of Altis' followers; again, Trax was almost certain that the other man's eyes fell on him.

    Am I losing my mind? Who in the galaxy would look at a clone like that? Besides a certain Jedi. He sighed as the boys and the Padawan continued their conversation, heedless of his distraction.

    We're always hungry,” another lad – Keo – said, brushing his long, scraggly hair out of his eyes. “Part of the accelerated aging, Commander.” The same scrap of hair fell back in its place and he pushed it aside again.

    This gave Traxis an idea. It only took him a few minutes to work up the nerve to get up and cross the room to where the Twi'lek was speaking with a Rodian male. At the clone's approach, the Twi'lek glanced his way and gave him a wide smile, which nearly made Traxis turn around. However, was able to mentally shake off his agitation. You're a soldier, for kriff's sake. You've faced much worse odds of being shot down. After taking a breath he gestured to the lads, whom he knew were tracking his movements. “Any idea where there's a 'fresher nearby? They need some cleaning up.”

    The Twi'lek nodded; when he spoke, his lilting accent held a vague edge of humor. “Through those doors to the left...the middle turbolift will take you to the crew quarters. You should be able to find what you need, there.” There was a pause before he extended his hand. “I'm Ares, by the way.”

    Traxis.” The scarred clone almost didn't shake Ares' hand, then thought better of it. The Twi'lek had a firm grip and he was thankful that he was wearing his gloves in case his own palm was sweaty. Not that I'm nervous. Not that I have any reason to be nervous. “Thanks.” He turned to leave, but Ares tapped his shoulder.

    Your comrade asked me to find a dulcimer aboard your ship,” he said, meeting Traxis' eyes. “But I'm afraid I can't locate it....”

    Traxis nodded and tried not to not meet the Twi'lek's brown eyes. “Check the main officer's cabin; that's where we usually keep the instruments.”

    Ares nodded and smiled at him. “Thank you, Traxis.” His accent made Trax's name sound rather interesting, but the scarred clone shook the thought away as he nodded and turned to leave once more.

    When he returned to the table and stood at the head, five pairs of eyes fell on him and the clone cadets straightened out of habit. “Come on,” he said. “Let's get you lot cleaned up and make you look like proper troopers again.” As they stood up he glanced at the Padawan, who looked a bit lost at his words. As he felt that if he was responsible for the girl – at least for now – he cleared his throat. “Commander, they'll need some clean clothes as well. Do you think you can find some?” Indeed, they were still wearing their cadet uniforms, which were ragged and filthy at this point.

    Her face lit up like he'd asked her to eat a whole muja-pie. “Okay.” She paused and tilted her head. “Do you think that Master Tallis and Master Halcyon will want some as well? Their robes got pretty burned.”

    I have no idea, but I reckon so. “Sounds good, Commander. I'm sure they'll appreciate it.” He told her where he and the lads would be and she darted off; he did not miss how the boys watched her movements and sighed to himself. Something about those Jedi....I'm glad I'm immune. Well, to the Jedi-stuff, at least. He resisted the urge to see if Ares was still in the cafeteria as he nodded to the lads, who stood arrow-straight and watched him expectantly. “Alright men. Let's go.”

    *

    1084 days ABG

    Kalinda awoke in a bed, of all places. For several moments she was disoriented when she reached out for Stonewall's familiar presence beside her but was met with only cool, soft sheets; the sensation made her sit up and stare around the room even as she wracked her brain to try and remember how she came to be there. I sent a transmission to the Temple....but that's the last thing I can recall.

    It was not a large space. The furnishings were spare and looked cobbled together, as if pulled from several different sources: the bed on which she'd slept was small and fitted with an assortment of blankets – many of which looked handmade – and it was incongruously equipped with a wooden headboard and footboard; there was a military-looking, durasteel desk against one wall with several flimsinovels stacked haphazardly atop it; stranger still was a set of clothing that was laid over the edge of the bed. Though she was dressed in her old undershirt, her outer-tunic was nowhere in sight.

    She sat up and rubbed at her eyes, trying to sort out the tangle of emotions and memories that were snagging on the edges of her mind. After another moment she noticed that her armor was stacked to one side of the desk – cleaned and shining beneath the soft glow of light from the stars beyond the window – and her familiar boots were placed by the door. A deep breath, a moment of reflection told her that her body was still tired but she was otherwise healthy; peeling back the bandages on her arm and cheek revealed that the Force had sped her healing along. A good thing, considering that I have more than enough work to do now.

    Figuring that her Jedi robes had been too burned by the fire on Sethos to salvage, Kali slipped out of the bed and dressed in the provided attire: a pale blue tunic that fell past her hips, a pair of slender pants with multiple pockets that she thought would come in handy, and a long-sleeved, indigo over-shirt which was soft and faded and unlike anything she'd ever donned. Her old boots were a comfort. The armor she left to the side for now. She spotted her lightsaber on the desk and clipped it to her belt before making her way out the door.

    For a moment she stood and looked at what she figured were the crew quarters of the vessel: the room she'd awoken in was one amongst a wide corridor of cabins, some with hangings on the doors, painted images or nameplates; beneath her feet was a soft carpet, unlike anything she'd ever seen on a ship, which muted her steps and provided an interesting contrast to the massive bubble of transparisteel above her head that gave a view of the stars; one side of the corridor opened up to a rounded area with cushiony seating and a holo-projector that may have been the living room of a civilian family had it not been aboard the praxeum ship.

    Stonewall's face was at the front of her brain, but she knew she had to catch up with Honi and the rest of the guys. There's so much to do. I don't know where I should start.

    But before she could reach a decision, her stomach let out a feral growl and she winced at the sharp pang of hunger that followed. I suppose I need to eat as well. How long was I asleep? Her chrono had been nowhere in sight in the room where she'd woken. Another moment of deliberation and she thought that she remembered where the cafeteria was located, so she began head that way. As she walked, she caught sight of a few other of Altis' students, people who met her eyes and nodded or smiled, but made no attempt to speak to her. Aside from the humming of distant engines it was quiet. Her feet made no sound against the floor and she took a moment to marvel that this ship was unlike any other on which she'd ever traveled.

    It's beautiful in its own way. Almost...homey. She frowned at the strange thought but before she could continue the sound of her name reached her ears. Rather, it was her title and it gave her pause.

    Master Halcyon.” Kali turned to see Zara approaching, four clone cadets trailing in her wake, all of whom were staring at the adult Jedi with nothing short of awe as the Nautolan girl jogged to meet her. “Master Altis asked us to keep an eye out for you,” she said, looking up at Kali with dark eyes. “Are you hungry? He said you would be hungry.” Behind her, a few of the boys nodded but said nothing.

    Kali smiled at the children. One thing went right, anyway. The best thing. “Hungry as a wampa. Hopefully you can show me where I can get some food?” At some point the cadets had been cleaned up and had their hair cut and she wondered who had done so. I'm glad. They look healthier than they did on Sethos....more 'normal,' now. But this thought made her wince inwardly. They look normal, but what about within? How has their ordeal affected them? Will they ever be like their brothers on Kamino?

    Zara nodded and pointed to the left, glancing back at the cadets. “The cafeteria's through there. Are you guys....?”

    There was a chorus of “yes, Commander,” that made Kali smile again even as she moved to follow the Padawan. The cafeteria was not large or spacious, with a hodge-podge of tables and chairs clustered together, but it felt...right. Cozy. One of the boys murmured something to Zara and she glanced at Kali.

    Master Halcyon, what would you like? They can make anything here.”

    Kalinda.” She lifted a brow at the clone boy who'd spoken to Zara, noting how his face reddened. “Just call me Kalinda, or Kali, please. And I'll take whatever's ready, thank you.” The cadet nodded and gave her a salute before nudging the others – who'd all been staring – and they followed his lead, the lot of them scurrying off to the kitchens. Kali watched them for a moment before looking at Zara. “Do you know how long I've been asleep, by any chance?”

    Forty-nine hours, Mas – Kalinda.”

    Over two days? Force above and beyond...She very nearly stood and rushed out of the room – there was just too much to do – but Zara's gaze on her was earnest and a little worried. “I suppose I was more tired than I realized,” Kali replied instead, leaning back in the chair and noting the creak of wood that was a strange sound to hear as she watched the receding stars out of the nearest viewport. “Have you spoken with Honi?”

    She woke up a few hours ago and wanted to go right to the infirmary to check on the others,” Zara replied with a frown. “But Master Altis made her eat something first. She should be there, now. She told me to stay out of the way for the time being.” There was an edge of sorrow to her voice and Kalinda studied the girl for a few moments while the boys returned with trays of food, setting one of them before her and sliding back to their seats.

    I'm not sure if Honi was ready to take a Padawan, or if Zara was ready to start down that road. Perhaps I can help them figure it out, if I have the opportunity. At the very least I should talk to Honi. She gave her a smile. “It looks like you've gotten some rest, at least. I never even asked if you were injured.” Guilt flooded her. This girl is under my protection. I need to make sure she's being taken care of.

    Her lekku swayed as Zara shook her head. “I'm fine.” She glanced at the clone cadets, who were listening to the exchange with interest.

    Kalinda studied them as well and felt a flare of regret that she hadn't bothered to see that they were tended to before allowing herself to rest. “Did you guys get haircuts?”

    The one who was seated beside Zara sat up and saluted her. “Yes, sir, General...er...Kalinda.”

    Zara grinned. “Traxis did it. He said they looked like shaggy little banthas.” At this she started giggling, though the boys didn't look as amused.

    Except the one beside the Nautolan girl, who gave her a wry smile before glancing at his brothers. “We did look pretty bad, guys.”

    Well, you look much better now,” she said, deciding not to say 'like regular kids' though they were all dressed in an assortment of civilian clothes, much as she was. “You know, I've heard that there's a very well-equipped gymnasium on this ship,” she added, looking at them one by one. “With a pool. I'm not sure if you've seen it.” Zara's interest spiked at the mention of the pool, and the boys shook their heads. “I'd like to know for sure. Would you mind taking a look for me?” She smiled to herself as they nodded eagerly and began murmuring to one another. She glanced at Zara again. “Will you please go along and keep them out of trouble?” As she spoke she ensured that her voice held nothing but humor, and added an easy smile as well.

    The Nautolan girl grinned and nodded. “I'll try.” Minutes later the children had risen and all but raced out of the cafeteria; Kali watched them go and gave a deep exhale.

    I'm glad they're okay, at least. I should thank Traxis for looking after them so well. She looked down at her food and realized that she'd eaten most of it.

    After she'd risen and disposed of her tray, she found her way to the infirmary. Reaching out with the Force, she could tell that Stone and Crest were still unconscious, but that Milo was up and about. Additionally, she could hear Honi from outside the door that led to the section. “These men were not ready to be released from the tanks. They must be returned immediately.”

    A familiar, lilting accent that sounded a little tight at the moment replied. “Knight Tallis....I must reiterate that the worst of their wounds are fully healed and that scarring will be minimal. Bacta has done all it's going to do. What they need now is rest.” It sounded like the Arunai woman, albeit a bit more strained than she'd been before, and Kali grimaced to herself as she entered the infirmary.
    Honi and Upala were facing one another; the former's arms were crossed and her chin was raised with that defiant look that she got whenever someone tried to tell her that she was wrong. By contrast the Arunai woman looked tired and worn.

    Both women turned to face her once Kalinda's throat cleared. “How's it going, Honi?”

    Well enough, considering the lack of concern for the well-being of those in-” Honi paused in her diatribe and gave the other Jedi a knowing look. “You're teasing me, aren't you?”

    Kali gave her a smile before turning to Upala. “Thank you for all of your help. I haven't had a chance to check in with everyone as I should, but I know that you've done everything you can and for that I'm eternally grateful.” She gave the other woman a bow in the Arunai fashion, which made Upala smile and duck her head once.

    It's my job, Kalinda.” She paused and her eyes flicked to a nearby room. “Weave and Levy are in there,” she added. “The boy is....well, he's alive. But I'm not sure how he will be able to cope with everything.” Her gaze was filled with sorrow and Kali took a deep breath as she continued. “I have some other patients to check on...”

    Of course. Thank you, Upala.” She looked back at the red-haired Jedi as Upala slipped out of the room, clearly glad to get away from Honi, who was looking thoughtfully in the direction of Weave's room.

    Though I was forced to stay away for a time, I did notice that your clone's aptitude for dealing with cybernetics was impressive.” The words were not spoken with anything besides Honi's usual bluntness, but Kali understood the red-haired woman well enough to know praise when she heard it. There was a pause before she gave Kali another look. “Your captain is – apparently – well enough to be released from the bacta. He's in there,” she added, nodding to a nearby room. “Along with your other man. The younger one was on his feet soon enough. He's-”

    Milo.” Kalinda made for the door, pausing outside to take a breath.

    Honi followed Kali into the room. “Milo has been most...helpful as well.” Kalinda raised her eyebrow and the red-haired Jedi shook her head. “The medical staff on this vessel is light at the moment. He helped move his comrades.”

    Please tell me that you've been civil to him, Honi.”

    Her former apprentice let out a huff of air. “I've been asleep for most of the time, but I've made an effort to be...nice. As you requested.”

    I can only imagine what that entails. She smiled at Honi. “Thank you.”

    At this, Honi made a reply, but Kalinda had stopped listening once she saw Stonewall. Dressed in his off-duty tunic and pants, he was lying on something that resembled a couch more than a bed, but he looked comfortable enough. At least, his face was peaceful, despite the numerous bandages that still covered his arms and legs. She shut her eyes and reached to him through the Force: his mind was still and quiet. Restful. Her chest relaxed a fraction of an inch. Before she moved to him she looked over at Crest, who was in a true hospital bed such as one would find in the GAR. Light snoring indicated that he was asleep as well, and his face was slack.

    Kalinda.” It was Milo, coming into the room carrying a pitcher of water and a tray of glasses. “They're going to be fine,” he said, setting the tray down on a durasteel table beside Crest. He filled a glass of water and handed it to the red-haired Jedi, who took it absently, drained the container in one long swallow and gave it back to him with a nod. “General Tallis and Mistress Upala think so, anyway.”

    At the mention of the Arunai woman, Honi made a noise of exasperation but said nothing as she moved to Stone, setting her hands over his chest and closing her eyes. Kali could feel her former Padawan gathering the Force to her like one would collect a blanket spread over the ground. Milo watched her with rapt and silent attention, the empty glass still in his hand.

    Kali smiled. In spite of her other...attributes, Honi's a gifted Healer. Lucky for us. She could tell that the other Jedi was checking the clone's body for further injury or general wrong, as bacta couldn't fix everything. Several minutes later Honi nodded to herself and opened her eyes, rising to move to Crest's bedside to repeat the process. Kalinda swallowed and went to Stonewall, sitting on the edge of the couch beside him and running her hand along his face.

    Stone? Stonewall?

    Silence. She was dimly aware of Milo's hushed voice speaking to Honi, who made another sound of irritation as she followed the clone out the door. But this only registered in some small, shadowed corner of her brain, as most of her attention was taken up with the man before her. Kali swallowed and leaned down to kiss him, noting how his lips were soft with new-grown skin. “I love you,” she said. “Stonewall, if you can hear me, I love you.”

    And then she heard his voice in her mind, faint and soft, like a murmur in the first moments of wakefulness after a lengthy dream. Kali'ka.

    *

    Zara was weightless.

    For the first time in longer than she cared to remember she was completely immersed in water, and it felt good. The slightest motion of her bare feet allowed her to skim through the pool with a grace that she never seemed to find on land, and for the first hour she allowed herself to be taken over with the sheer delight of the swim.

    Even as she arced her body through the water she was aware of the clone boys who were currently having a contest to see who could hold his breath the longest. Zara could have had them all beat but she was having too much fun to care; she could hear and smell and feel things underwater in a way that was wholly different and more sensitive than she could in staid air: her own heartbeat and those of the cadets beat a tympani in her ears; bubbles from their exhales gurgled as they rushed to the surface; their happiness added a sweet tang around her.

    Presently, Zara was resting on the floor of the pool, watching their contest from a unique vantage point. Keo had won the first round, then Risky, but of course they were at it again. At first she had remained nearby, spiraling through the water as though she were a part of it, though after a while she had allowed herself to sink to the bottom, legs folded and lekku lifting above her head. When she saw them pop back up she pushed off from the tiled floor, relishing the feel of the liquid slipping over her skin. She broke the surface and met their eyes, noting the definite ripples of admiration and awe that reached through the Force to her. “I win.”

    No-Name's eyes were wide, but he nodded and shot the others a wry look. “Guess we have our work cut out for us, don't we?” He glanced back at her. “I would ask you to race, but it wouldn't be fair, Commander.”

    She shook her head, still delighting in the way that the water made everything better in ways that she couldn't really describe. “Maybe if I give you a head start?” Her tone was slightly challenging, the time in the pool had given her a bravado that she had not felt in a long while, since before she'd become a Padawan. At her words No-Name grinned and looked at his brothers, who nodded to one another.


    You're on.”

    Last edited by laloga, Aug 25, 2014
    gracesonnet likes this.
  18. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
  19. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    And go traxis too


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    laloga likes this.
  20. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet: Everyone could use a cheer or two at this point! =D= Thank you for being awesome. [face_party]

    *****
    Chapter Twelve: Revelations

    1084 days ABG

    Master...his body needs to rest. There's nothing you can do for him now.” At some point Honi had re-entered the room and her voice was quiet as she placed a hand on Kali's shoulder.

    I could stay by his side for the rest of my life. But Kalinda nodded and rose, giving him one last look before stepping over to Crest and studying the other man. His normal, jovial expression was restful, and she could sense that his body was still healing. She glanced at Honi. “I can never thank you enough for taking such good care of them.”

    The red-haired woman shook her head. “Master – Kalinda – that's what I do. You know that. Besides...” Her cheeks turned pink and she cleared her throat. “You said that you...care for him.”

    I love him, Honi.”

    Right.” She sighed and smoothed out her hair, shaking her head in disbelief. “Love.” Honi glanced from Kalinda to Stonewall and sighed again as her thoughts drifted back to a certain bearded Jedi.

    Kalinda resisted the urge to roll her eyes; instead she turned for the door. “I'm going to speak with Master Altis. In the meantime, you should talk to your Padawan...she's still your responsibility, you know, and she needs you. She's losing her way. Besides, a student's place is with her teacher.”

    I know,” Honi replied, her eyebrows knitting. “It's just...” She sighed and her shoulders slumped. “I thought it would be different, Kalinda. I thought that it would be like you and I were.”

    We're closer in age than you and Zara,” Kali replied. “And when we joined forces you were much closer to Knighthood than she is.” She gave the other woman a wry smile. “You have all the tact of a battering ram, Honi, but you're a fine Jedi. I know that you'll be a good teacher, too, but you have to work at it. Nothing worth having comes easily...and while I may have made it look otherwise, training you wasn't without difficulty.”

    Expression thoughtful, Honi exhaled and nodded. A few minutes later the two women slipped out of the room and parted ways, and Kali found Upala again, who gave her Altis' probable location: the library.

    I don't think I've ever seen a library on a ship before, Kali thought as she approached the massive room. Situated towards the front of the Chu'unthor, the space reminded her of the Archives at the Jedi Temple only in the sense that they both held a vast collection of information. Like the rest of the Chu'unthor, the library on the praxeum ship seemed to be a collaboration of various pieces of furniture – from worn but plush couches to sleek desks and chairs – with workstations scattered between the rows of shelves that contained datapads and flimsies alike. There were long windows that arced around the sides, allowing patrons to get an almost panoramic view of the space beyond, and in the distance all she could see were stars.

    For a few minutes she simply stood at the entrance, taking it all in and wondering how in the galaxy he'd managed to collect such a wealth of information. A quiet male voice gently shook her from her reverie as the Jedi Master rose from a nearby desk to greet her. “Kalinda. How are you feeling?” He looked the same as before, though his eyes were a little more shadowed than she remembered.

    Much better now, Master, thank you.” Kali gave him a bow and gestured to the expansive room. “This is incredible....I've never seen anything like it.”

    He chuckled and indicated that they should walk; moments later he was guiding her through the shelves. “It's adequate, if not as comprehensive as it could be.” They stopped before one of the windows and stood for a moment. The realization came to her that he was waiting for her to speak.

    Kali inhaled, unsure of where to begin. Finally she gave him a sideways look. “Thank you for everything, Master. I'm not sure I can ever really express how grateful I am for your help....I don't think that the others would be alive if it weren't for your crew's assistance.”

    The Infinity had to respond to an emergency in another system,” he replied with a nod of acknowledgment of her gratitude. “But they called us. It wasn't luck that we were nearby, Kalinda.”

    She shook her head. “Luck or not, I'm grateful.”

    How are the others?” Something in his tone suggested that he already knew the answer but wanted to hear her perspective.

    Zara's a little shaken, but healthy. The boys are the same, though I think they're going to eat every bit of food they can find.” They shared a smile before her face fell. “The boy that Creon managed to get his hands on – Levy – well, I don't know what's going to happen with him.” She hugged her arms to her sides and felt weariness drag at her body again.

    Kalinda, no one ever knows what the future will bring. The important thing is that he's among those who have his best interests at heart.” Altis put a hand on her arm and indicated that they should take a seat on a nearby couch. It was good to sink into the thick cushions for a moment, and she took a few deep breaths to steady herself. When he spoke again, his voice was still kind. “And your men?”

    This made Kali's hands tighten. “They're out of danger, but are still healing. Their armor only protected them to a certain degree....but Honi and Upala both think they'll make full recoveries. Milo's already up and about.” She thought of his attention to her former Padawan and sighed inwardly.

    Again, he nodded, but when he spoke his voice was hesitant. “Are the rumors about you and your squad true?”

    Too tired to make a flippant remark, she only nodded. “They're partly true.” She lifted her eyes to his. “Just Stonewall.” Since she was unaware of what he knew, and since it didn't really seem like such an important matter in the wake of everything else that had happened, she explained further. “He's become Force-sensitive as well. I don't know how or why....and at this rate, I'm not sure we'll ever find out.”

    Has he been trained at all?” Altis didn't seem surprised at the revelation, which gave her pause.

    I've been going over some of the basics: mediation, telekinetics, telepathy – we can speak to one another through the Force – some healing and a bit of lightsaber training. He's getting better every day...I only wish we had more time.” In so many more ways than one.

    I see.” He looked thoughtful. “What are you going to do now that your people are safe?”

    Kali frowned and shook her head. “For now? I don't really know. I told the Council that the others need to rest and recuperate before we head back to the Core, but I'm not sure what will happen once we get there.”

    Always in motion, the future is,” he replied with a wry look that made her chuckle. “In any case, you and yours are welcome to stay here for as long as you need.”

    She nodded. “Thank you. Everything's been so hectic lately....I feel like I haven't been able to get a toehold on anything. It's good to stop for a moment and catch my breath.” She glanced out the viewport and watched the stars; the Chu'unthor was at rest, drifting through the Metalorn system, but she could still hear the quiet hum of the sub-light engines far to the rear of the ship. What will happen to the boys when we reach Coruscant? Will they be sent back to Kamino? Can they go back to being regular clones? Should they? And what about Levy?

    Her head was starting to ache. What have I gotten us into? And how will we all come out of it?

    You have always been welcome here.” He indicated the stars beyond the viewport. “I can't turn anyone away, it seems. Even those who promise to eat me out of house and home.” He gave her a grin which she was able to return despite the weight on her shoulders and the shadow over her heart.

    They were silent for a moment before an icy realization began to ball in the pit of her stomach. It was difficult to voice her thought, but she managed. “You were right about the Council. The only reason I was able to find the boys was because Creon Dai took a Jedi Padawan. If not for that, no one ever would have found them.”

    He looked about as remorseful as she felt. “I wish I had been wrong.”

    I know that the war makes things so difficult for the Jedi,” she said. “But I can't understand their position on the clones. Those boys...they're just children. It doesn't matter how much training or growth-acceleration the clones have gone through, and it doesn't matter that the majority of the them don't desire anything more...at the end of all things, it's wrong to treat people like they're disposable. Like their lives have no worth.” She winced and rubbed her forehead. “Everything about this is wrong.”

    Altis was silent for a moment. Finally he spoke. “What would you have done in the Council's place, had the choice to use the clones been on your shoulders?” It was the same question that Mace had asked her the last time she was on Coruscant; at the time, Kalinda had not had an answer.

    She did, now. “The Separatists use machines to fight their battles...why didn't we? The Republic has so many resources...I don't understand why they didn't take advantage of them. It was easier, I guess, to use the clone army that was ready to go.” Her voice had taken on a bitter tone.

    'Ready to go.' I suppose that puts it rather succinctly,” Altis replied. “I have not met many clones, you understand, but the ones I did meet – save your men – seemed more than willing to give their lives for the Republic.”

    Kalinda shook her head. “The only things that makes 'my men' different from the millions of other clones are their experiences. Force knows I've tried to show them that they are more than just the summation of their training. But...”

    But you can't show them all.”

    No. As much as I would like to.” She looked out the window, at the stars, and thought of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. “I find that lately I'm not so happy to be a Jedi.” Not until they left her mouth did she realize that the words were true, and she was gripped with a bitter remorse that was unlike anything she had ever felt.

    The Jedi Master only nodded at her words, giving her a sad smile. “You are more than just the summation of your own training, Kalinda. And....there is more than one way to be a Jedi.” She had no reply to that, so she simply kept her eyes on the stars. Altis regarded her for a moment more and she felt from him – of all things – uncertainty. When he spoke again, his words were deliberate. “I know that I told you before, Kali, but your father would be very proud to see what you've accomplished.”

    Jonas. She thought of her father and first master with a mixture of affection and remorse and her hand moved absently to the scar on her left knee. “I'd like to think so, too.”

    Did you know that he stayed with me for a time?”

    At this she looked at him. “He never mentioned it.” Did he ever leave the Temple proper? He was always a model Jedi, despite the fact that he had a child. “When?”

    About a year and a half before you were born.” Altis paused – seeming to deliberate about something – then reached into his pocket to pull out a small, leather-bound flimsi which he turned over in his hands as he continued speaking. “This is where he met your mother.”

    The words hung in the air before Kali frowned. “Master, my mother was a Corellian farmer's daughter living on a small colony in the Mid-Rim; his ship crashed there and he was badly injured...he ended up staying with her family for several months. Later, she contacted him and told him that I had been born and I was showing signs of being Force-sensitive. I met her myself when I was thirteen.” The memory was clear: a dark-haired woman with eyes like hers and a bright laugh. “Her family was taken with an illness and he thought that I should see her once before she died.”

    The Jedi Master nodded to himself and studied the flimsi for a moment. “I know what he told you, Kali, and while I didn't agree with it, I tried to respect his and your mother's wishes.”

    Kalinda felt very still and her voice sounded small in her ears, especially since she could practically hear the blood rushing through her veins. “What do you mean?”

    She was one of my students, for a time.” He offered her the flimsi, which she stared at for a moment before reaching her hand forward to claim it. “Kamala was one of those Force-sensitives that was not strong enough to be trained as a Jedi, despite the fact that she had a keen desire to learn. Eventually she found her way to me and spent some time here on the Chu'unthor.

    The tone of his voice indicated that there was more, so much more, but Kali was only aware of the fragile book in her hands. The leather may have been a rich black once, but it was faded now, scratched and dented by age. The paper pages were fragile and filled with handwriting that initially looked like a jumble, but she thought that she would be able to decipher it with time. Time. The one thing I don't think I have much of at the moment. “And this was hers? I haven't seen a handwritten journal in....well, ever.” She frowned at the book even as she flipped through the pages.

    Kamala had a penchant for antiquities,” Altis said with a smile as he watched her fingertips smooth across the pages. “I think it's why she was so fond of me.”

    Kalinda studied the first page; her mother's hand – if it really was hers – was strong and fluid; she glanced at the date. About a year before I was born. Why would Jonas have lied about her? What possible reason would he have to conceal this from me? She took a breath and met Master Altis' eyes again. “Why are you telling me this now?” If she was truthful, she didn't really want to know the answer, but the entire conversation was like being lead before a closed door that she had to open, despite the fact that she was terrified of she'd see when she crossed the threshold.

    He was quiet for a moment, running his hand through his beard in consideration as he studied the stars beyond them. Finally he looked back at her. “There are two reasons. The first is your captain.” At this, Kali sat up and stared at him.

    Stonewall? But...”

    You don't know why he can use the Force, correct?” She nodded and he indicated the journal. “There was a planet in the Outer-Rim that your mother and father studied for a time. According to their accounts, there were....strange energies that permeated the place that influenced the Force itself.” He frowned, as if trying to recall some distant memory. “I believe that Mundali might contain some of the answers you seek.”

    Mundali. Never heard of it.” It felt as if her own voice wasn't working properly. She flipped the book shut and stared at it for a moment as he continued speaking.

    I'm not surprised. But the second reason is – in my mind, anyway – the simpler one: because you have a right to know the truth, Kali. Especially now, when you seem to be at a crossroads.” He smiled at her and she nodded as her eyes remained fixed on the object in her hands.

    It was almost too much to take in and for a long while her brain whirred in agitation. Mundali? Stonewall's use of the Force is linked to some backwater planet in the Outer-Rim? Her hands were trembling even as they clutched the smooth face of the journal. If only I had the time to read this...if only I-

    Abruptly, she stood up, tucking the journal in one of her pockets. “Thank you for your help, Master Altis,” she said to him. “I...I need to think about...well.” She sighed and shook her head. “I have to talk to the others. Right now we must figure out what we're going to do next. I imagine Honi and Zara will want to return to their duties and I need to check on Weave and Levy again.”

    My offer stands,” he replied, rising alongside her. “You – or any of your crew – are welcome here as long as you like. We have room for everyone.” He gave her a smile that she tried to return even as the journal felt heavy at her side.

    Another thread of my life that needs to be untangled. Another missing piece of the puzzle. She nodded to him once more and slipped out of the library, her steps silent against the smooth floor.

    *

    It was the first time Stonewall had the dream, but it would not be the last.

    They are on Japarran, the Outer-Rim world where they'd first kissed, sitting in a copse of fallen jessamin flowers. Kali leans forward to brush a multitude of small, white blossoms from his head, smiling as she does so; she opens her mouth to say something but instead of her voice, all he can hear is a sudden, distant shouting, followed by an ominous rumbling and a faint but unmistakable vibration of the ground. Despite the fact that she doesn't seem to notice, he's reminded of a battle.

    Alarm floods him as he looks around. “Kali, don't you hear that?” He tries to stand but his legs won't work for some reason, and he feels a brush of dread at the edges of his mind.

    She smiles at him again; there is no fear in her expression and her voice is light. “It's the end of all things, Stone.” Her hand lifts to brush more of the flowers off of him even as he hears the distinctive sound of blaster fire and feels the earth trembling as though thousands of terrible things are approaching.

    We need to leave,” he says. His heart is starting to race. “Kali...” Confusion followed by swift fear pierces him as he realizes that he's immobile and helpless in the face of certain danger.

    In spite of all this, she's gotten to her feet already and is smiling down at him. “It's okay, Stone. It will be okay. I love you. No matter what happens, I will always love you.” The sounds grow closer; he can see blue bolts scorching the trees. White-clad figures breach the jessamin grove, almost blending in with the fallen flowers and when he looks up at Kali, her hair is still stippled with the fragile, funereal blossoms.

    Panic clutches his heart as seeking shots of blue ring around them. Some part of his mind knows that they are searching for her, but she seems unconcerned. “Kali'ka, you have to leave.” Again, he tries to struggle to his feet, thinking that maybe he can place himself between her and the others but his body will not respond to his brain's commands.

    Kali's dark eyes meet his and he is gripped with a terror stronger than anything he has ever experienced. “Don't be afraid.” Her voice is distant, and when he reaches for her, his hand passes through her skin as if she were a ghost.

    As the dream ends, all he can do is watch as she is struck down. Around them, the entire grove begins to burn.

    *
    The music of the dulcimer trickled through the small room and reached the boy who was huddled in the corner, watching Weave with wide eyes while the older clone was seated on the floor across from him, his back against the wall. At first he'd played the notes of the song that Milo had uncovered, which had seemed to snap Levy out of whatever trance he'd been in, though he still had not spoken a word. But he'd stopped flailing and seemed calm – as much as anyone could be in his predicament, Weave thought – and he appeared to like the music well enough.

    Weave tried not to look like he was watching the clone cadet as he played; instead he studied the curl of his hands around the frets of the small instrument and concentrated on the melody that emanated. However, his implant allowed him to see the small puffs of air that were escaping Levy's mouth with each breath and understand that, though he was nervous, he was gradually growing more at ease.

    As he kept playing, Weave was struck by the conflicting emotions he could read from Levy's expression; he could tell that the cadet was terrified but also curious, and it hit unsettlingly close to home. He looks about how I feel most of the time. Surreptitiously, he studied Levy's arm. If I could get him to hold still, I might be able to remove some of it, or at least get a better understanding of what's happening with him. He cleared his throat, the sound making Levy's gaze meet his.

    How are you feeling, Levy?”

    At first the boy was still, then after a long pause he gave a small shrug, though he didn't speak. His gaze never left the instrument in Weave's hand. Odd. Can he talk? I wonder if the nanos did something to his voice. It was an upsetting thought, but as he had no basis for proof, he set that concern to the side for the time being.

    So Weave kept playing, almost idly, and spoke again after a moment. “Your brothers miss you. Do you remember them?”

    These words made Levy roll his eyes and give Weave a look that said, of course I do, you di'kut.

    Grinning, Weave started up a new song, and – after a moment – began to hum along with the melody. Levy watched him and slowly, so slowly it may not have been happening, he began to relax his posture. A few more minutes passed and he inched closer to Weave and the dulcimer, his eyes darting from the strings to Weave's implant.

    The music never stopped.

    After what felt like hours, Levy was beside him, still transfixed by the dulcimer. At one point he reached his hand out, not to the instrument, but to Weave's face. Levy's eyes were alight with curiosity and Weave resisted the urge to stop playing even as he felt a querying brush against the implant. Levy studied him, then looked down at his own arm with a frown. When Weave spoke, he kept his voice quiet. “I'm just like you, Levy. We're brothers, after all.”

    The boy's brows knitted but he nodded, then sat back on his heels and continued to listen.

    *

    Since Weave was busy with the clone boy, Milo decided to take it upon himself to fix their comlinks. It wasn't a difficult job, seeing as the Wayfarer had more than enough spare parts to do so, and it kept him occupied while he watched General Tallis and her Padawan in the gymnasium. There was a wide open area in the center of the wing, beneath a massive dome that opened up to the stars, and it was beneath this that the Jedi were sparring. General Tallis was a graceful warrior, her form was precise and aggressive, while Commander Zara was clearly still learning the finer points of defense, though she was strong in her own right.

    Beside him on the bench, from their place along the wall, Traxis leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Good move,” he said as the Padawan blocked a feint from the red-haired Jedi. “She's not bad, for a kid.”

    She's been training about as long as we've been alive,” Milo replied as he tweaked the delicate circuitry on the device in his hand. Beyond them, General Tallis managed a fluid leap that brought her over the Nautolan girl's head, her green saber glowing against the backdrop of stars for an instant before she landed. She's about as graceful as anything I've ever seen. He noted how her red hair was already coming loose from the pins that she wore, then gave his head a small shake, looking back at the comlink.

    Traxis nodded again as the commander managed a feint of her own. “Nice.” He glanced at one of the clone cadets, all of whom were sitting in a line beside him. “See their feet? They never let their heels touch the ground so they stay light and springy. Helps with agility.”

    The nearest boy – Finn – nodded, then looked at one of the others. “Feel like sparring, Keo?”

    Sure. Beats hanging around.” The lads stood up and moved to the far corner of the room; Traxis' gaze following their movements.

    The two cadets that remained, No-Name and Risky, were engrossed in the Jedi's session and were holding perfectly still while they watched. Milo glanced up again just in time to see General Tallis and the Padawan cross blades once before leaping back from one another; he noted that the Nautolan girl had a smile on her face despite the fact that she was losing. The red-haired Jedi wore a mask of concentration.

    Traxis sighed. “You too, huh?”

    Milo pretended not to hear him and picked up another comlink. This one might be too far gone. Sethos really did a number on us, didn't it? He sighed and looked at his brother. “You're here as well, you know.”

    Like I care about Tallis like that,” the scarred clone replied, shaking his head. “I'm not like the rest of you.”

    I know, but you don't ever really talk about it, do you?” Milo frowned at the comlink and pried open the backing, just in case he could salvage the power source. Nope. This one's farkled. “So why are you here?”

    At this, Traxis' eyes rested on the clone cadets, who had taken to racing one another from one end of the gymnasium to the other, the pounding of their feet against the rubberized floor echoing in the room. “Someone needs to keep an eye on the adi'ike, with the others lying around in sickbay or tied up with their own business.”

    The captain and Crest can't help that they're injured,” Milo replied, his gaze lifting to his brother. “They didn't ask to wind up unconscious in the infirmary of a strange ship. And have you seen Kalinda? She's trying to keep everyone safe...it can't be easy, you know? She's in charge of us and them as well.”

    Traxis exhaled out of his nose. When he spoke next, it was in Mando'a. “I know. That's not the point....we went through hell to get these kids to safety and now what? What does Kalinda plan on doing with them? Ship 'em back to Kamino? You and I both know what will happen there.”

    He wasn't sure, not really, but he could imagine well enough. The Kaminoans don't like clones that are 'different,' and after what they've been through, these kids are sure to be labeled as such. Milo frowned in thought. “I'm not sure what she wants to do, but I'll bet she has an idea.”

    Well, I haven't heard anything about a plan, so until I do, I'm going to make sure that they get some kind of....I don't know. Normalcy.” Trax sighed again, and when he spoke there was a new bitterness to his voice. “Whatever that means to folks like us.”

    It was the tone more so than the words that made Milo look at his brother. “What does that mean?”

    A long pause, during which the boys continued to race and the Jedi's sabers hummed. Finally Traxis shook his head and kept his gaze fixed on the cadets, still speaking in Mando'a. “I'm just not sure anymore, Mi.”

    About what?” He'd all but forgotten about the comlink in his hand.

    Seeing them acting like kids, like real kids, it's just...” Traxis exhaled again and frowned. “If they go back to Kamino – even if they don't get reconditioned – they'll be soldiers. That's it. That's all they'll ever be.” Milo nodded, but it was more of a go on gesture than an agreement, but Traxis didn't speak for several minutes, his hand absently tracing the line of the scar on his face. “It's not fair. Look at them, Mi. I've seen war, I've seen battles and death and blood....and I don't want them to have any part of it.” He sighed again and sat up as if reaching some decision. “I want them to have the choice that I didn't.”

    Again, Milo was silent while he absorbed the words. Long ago they might have sounded like treason, but he knew otherwise, now. Kalinda's tried to tell us before, but now I think I understand. Finally he gave his brother a smile. “I think that's a good thing, Trax. But what does it mean for you?”

    At this, the scarred clone gave a sardonic chuckle and shook his head. “Still working on that part, vod.” He glanced at No-Name and Risky beside him, who were still engrossed in the Jedi's sparring, and spoke in Basic. “Why don't you go with your brothers?”

    No-Name met his eyes; there was a moment where Milo wondered if he would refuse, but in the end he nodded and stood up, looking at Risky as the other boy got to his feet as well. Without a word they thudded off to join the others. Traxis watched their movements for a while longer as Milo fiddled with the comlink and tried not to be distracted by the red-haired Jedi. It's no good, you know, he told himself as he poked at a loose wire. Even if either of you were in a position to...do anything, she's nothing like Kalinda and you're not like the captain. Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place.

    Besides, you've made your decision; going backwards isn't an option.

    Choices,” he said at last. “They don't seem so important when you think you don't have any.” Traxis glanced at him but said nothing. A few minutes later, Milo sighed to himself as the comlink lit up. “Another one working, at least.” A glance beside him showed that there were four more that needed attention, so he set the working one aside and picked up another.

    Beyond them, the Jedi continued to spar.

    *

    FYI: Woo! This is “officially” the halfway point! :D

    So you can probably guess that all the talk about the planet Mundali relates to the third and final part of this trilogy, which is currently in the first rewrite stage. It's shaping up to be an eventful story, in more ways than one! (If the name sounds familiar, it's because Kali and Stone visited Mundali in my story Awakening, in the other “timeline.” It's an “M” rated fic, but worth a look – I think – and Honi's in it as well!)

    As always, I appreciate your reviews, comments, remarks, and speculations. If you have any questions about this story, or any of my work, please feel free to PM me!
    gracesonnet likes this.
  21. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    Yay, update!
    Oh, Honi. You're really not going to let this "Kali and Obi-Wan aren't dating anymore" thing go, are you? Why doesn't Honi just make a move on Obi-Wan then? He'd probably go for it.
    I want to just give Milo a hug.
    laloga likes this.
  22. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet: Sigh. Honi has a difficult time letting things go, especially when she does not approve. In my headcanon, she had a crush on Obi-Wan a long time ago, but the 20-odd year age difference prevented it from being any more than one-sided puppy love. I think, somewhere in the back of her mind, she would like Kali and Obi to be together. Also, she doesn't quite understand how Kali could have "chosen" a clone over a Jedi Master. ;)

    Thanks so much for the comment! (I'm sure Milo would happily hug you back. :D)

    *****
    Chapter Thirteen: At What Cost

    1084 days ABG

    Vod? Hey, vod....”

    Who is that? Who's calling me? It was an effort to convince his eyes to open, but Stonewall managed after a few seconds of determination. Everything was blurry and for a moment he wondered if he'd lost his sight.

    Hello, Stonewall? Come in, Captain.”

    After he blinked several times and the room came into focus, what he saw did nothing to ease his sense of disorientation: judging from the instruments and presence of medical supplies he was in an infirmary of some kind, but it everything was softer than it should have been, as if the edges had been sanded down. This isn't the Wayfarer or a GAR sickbay. Where am I?

    A noise sounded to his right and he turned his head – slowly, as his muscles were stiff and even the small movement made him wince – to see Crest lying in a hospital bed, regarding him with amusement. “He lives. Finallly....I thought I was going to have to keep talking to myself.”

    Stonewall gave a deep inhale, assessing his condition and trying to pull up the last thing he remembered. “We were on Sethos, getting out of Creon's facility...” He glanced at Crest for confirmation; the bald clone grimaced and nodded.

    Yeah, I remember that little fiasco.”

    The cadets....” Stonewall tried to sit up, but the sudden shifting of blood in his veins made him dizzy, and the throb of pain in his arms and shoulders was enough to keep him lying prone. “Are they okay? And the Padawan?” He rubbed at his forehead and tried to ignore the queasy sensation in his gut.

    The bald clone managed a shrug. “Not sure. No one's been in since I've been awake.”

    Nodding, Stonewall closed his eyes and reached to the Force – still humming in his veins – to contact Kali. As he did so, an image of her smiling down at him, moments before she crumpled to his feet to the sound of blaster-fire filled his mind; he tried to ignore it. Just a dream. It wasn't real.

    And then she was there, in his mind and he smiled. Stonewall? You're awake? There was relief in her voice, overwhelming relief, interlaced with joy. She didn't wait for him to reply. I'll be there in a moment.

    He opened his eyes and glanced at Crest, who was watching him with a bemused expression. “She's on her way, isn't she?”

    Stonewall chuckled and nodded even as he tried to push himself upright again; however, the moment he did so he felt his arms and legs tighten with pain, so he was forced to lie back down with a hiss.

    Tried that already. I guess fire and flesh don't mix so well.”

    With a sigh, Stonewall tried to shift on the sleep-couch – Not a bed? Strange – to a semi-upright position; while he was doing so, the door slid open and Kalinda strode in, her eyes locked onto him. He opened his mouth to speak to her but she shook her head.

    What in the seven hells of Tethys are you trying to do?”

    Yes, I am feeling better,” he replied in a dry voice. “Thanks for asking.”

    She rolled her eyes and moved to him, all but pushing him onto the couch until he was lying on his back again. “You were in a bacta tank for far too long to even think about trying to get up right now, Stone.” Despite the annoyance in her voice he could tell that she was worried and found himself wondering how bad it must have been. However, before he could speak again she glanced at Crest. “You both should keep lying down and resting. That's an order, in case you were wondering.”

    The bald clone leaned back and regarded her. “In that case....what's a guy have to do to get some food around here?”

    Kali looked at Stone. “Are you hungry, too?” He considered a moment, then nodded. She made to get to her feet and rush out the door but he grabbed her hand and pulled her to him, ignoring the lance of pain in his arm. “Stone what are you-”

    He silenced her with a kiss, feeling her body relax in his grip as she dropped to a kneel beside him; Crest made a noise of mock-disgust and shifted in the bed – presumably turning away – but Stonewall found that he didn't care in the slightest. When they parted, he smiled at her, pleased at the flush that had crept to her cheeks. “That was for saving our lives.”

    She laughed and leaned into him again. “Not that I hope it will have to happen again, but I'm glad I could.” After another moment or two she cleared her throat and glanced between them. “I'll be right back with some lunch; in the meantime, please stay put and try to rest.”

    How are the cadets?” Stone asked, still reluctant to let her go.

    Everyone's fine,” she replied. “In fact, now that you two are awake, I want us all to have a briefing of a sort.” Her voice changed, became more solemn. “We need to figure out our next move.”

    We, not I. Stonewall nodded and released her hand. “Sounds good.” She smiled at him again before slipping out of the room.

    Crest sighed and crossed his arms behind his head, though he winced at the movement. “Back to square one.”

    Stonewall watched the door slide shut behind her and gave a quiet sigh. Again, the memory of his dream resurfaced and he tried to push it aside. But the image of her collapsing to the ground beside him, surrounded by white-armored troopers – clones like him, he was sure – would not leave his mind, and he felt a stirring of apprehension that he could not ignore. It was just a fever-dream.

    Nothing more.

    *

    Traxis was in the cafeteria with the lads, watching them shoveling down lunch when he saw Kalinda streak through the room, her face set. The moment she caught sight of him she headed over; he watched as the clone boys sat up straight and stopped chewing. Impressive. Didn't think anyone had that power over them. “What is it?”

    She inhaled. “Stone and Crest are awake; I want everyone to meet in their room in the infirmary in half an hour. We have a lot to go over.”

    He cast a glance at the boys, who were listening avidly, before looking back at her and speaking in Mando'a so that they wouldn't understand. Though how long that will last, I'm not sure. “What's going to happen to them?”

    That's what I'm trying to figure out,” she replied, also in Mando'a.

    Nodding, he leaned forward in his chair. “If they get sent back....” He frowned and shook his head at her expression of worry. “It won't be good. Take my word for it.” The long-necks would just as soon toss them in the ocean for all they care.

    She took a deep breath and nodded, glancing at the lads and giving them a smile. When she spoke again it was in Basic. “I see you've all been busy.”

    No-Name saluted her. “Kalinda, we've made a full recon of the gymnasium, as you requested, sir.”

    Trax could see that she was biting her tongue to keep from chuckling as she replied in a serious voice. “And what is your report, cadet?”

    He glanced at the others before looking back at the dark-haired Jedi. “We think you'll be pleased, sir.”

    Thank you,” she replied with a smile. “I hope I have a chance to enjoy it.” She looked back at Traxis. “Half an hour? Can you tell Milo?”

    He nodded. “Sure thing. Want me to let General Tallis and her Padawan know as well? Last I saw, they were all together.” He lifted a brow and they exchanged a knowing look.

    Thanks, Trax, but if that's the case, I'll find them before I speak to Master Altis...I reckon he should be a part of this.” She sighed and he could see the agitation in her expression.

    Don't envy her all those plates she's juggling. He nodded again before glancing at the lads. “Then I'll let Weave know, and if you like, we can bring some food to the captain and baldy – if you need some more time.”

    She paused, but nodded after a moment of deliberation. “That would be very helpful...thank you, Trax. And thank you, guys,” she added, glancing at the lads. “I'll see you soon.”

    And she was gone.

    Traxis watched her leave then looked back at the cadets, all of whom were gaping after her. He cleared his throat. “You heard the General....clean your plates, then we'll bring the others some grub.”

    *

    Zara stepped out of the showers and glanced around for Master Tallis, who was already in the corner of the gymnasium, conversing with Kalinda and one of her clone soldiers. Milo, she thought as she approached. The younger one. He's nice.
    As her master caught sight of the Nautolan girl, she frowned, though the look was not directed at her, and turned back to Milo. “Are you certain?”

    The clone trooper nodded; his own face was tightly drawn and he was holding a comlink. “I was testing the comms when I caught word....the Chancellor's been kidnapped by Grievous, practically right out of his office in the Senate. There's a skirmish going on above Coruscant as we speak, according to the HoloNet.”

    The adults exchanged a look and Zara felt her blood chill. I've never met the Chancellor, but the other Jedi speak highly of him. She looked up at Master Tallis. “What's going to happen?” Her voice sounded very small in the wake of such news.

    Master Tallis shook her head and ran a hand through her damp hair that she'd not yet pinned up. “I don't know, Zara. But I think that we need to return to the Temple...if things are as bad as they say, they'll need every Jedi they can get.”

    Kalinda's face was pale and she said nothing for a moment, clearly lost in thought. Finally she sighed and rubbed at her forehead. “Very well. I want everyone in the infirmary in about...” She glanced at Milo's chrono. “Twenty-five minutes. We have much to discuss.”

    We'll see you there, Kalinda,” Milo replied. “Don't worry; we'll get it sorted out.”

    She smiled at him and nodded again before turning on her heel and heading out of the room.

    *

    It was easier than Weave had imagined to persuade Levy to eat something that Ares brought, and as it turned out the boy had a voracious appetite; despite the fact that he still had not said a word, it was good to see him acting like a normal kid. Weave was seated beside him in one of the infirmary rooms, watching Levy and casually plucking away on the dulcimer. It was peaceful, in a strange way, and he found himself thinking over the boy's future.

    What will happen if the Kaminoans get a hold of him again? Will they try to help him? The idea was laughable and he snorted to himself, causing Levy to look up from his muja-sauce with curiosity. Weave smiled and shook his head. “Nothing, Levy. Just thinking of something funny.”

    Nodding, the boy scraped the bowl with his spoon, eager to get every bite. Ares had also brought him a change of clothes and Weave had managed to get him to clean off much of the dust that had covered him, though he was not as filthy as the others had been. A result of Creon's procedure, I suppose. Weave suppressed a shudder and it was then that he knew with certainty that he could not let anyone else harm this boy. I can't do it. No matter if it means defection...some things are more important; I see that now. I think that Kalinda will understand. As for the others...

    A knock at the door made him look up even as Levy froze, his eyes locked on the panel. “It's Traxis,” his brother's voice replied. “And the lads.”

    Door's open.” Weave called out, then glanced at Levy. “Your brothers are here.”

    Levy swallowed and set down the bowl before moving to stand behind Weave, who noted that he kept tugging at the edges of his sleeve so that it covered his arm completely. When the others came in, there were a few moments of tense silence while the cadets regarded one another before one of them – No-Name, if Weave's memory served – stepped forward to his brother. “Lev? You okay?”

    Silence. Slowly, Levy nodded. No-Name grinned and reached for him as if to grasp his hand, but Levy jerked away. Weave glanced between them, noting how the other boys looked doubtful. “It's fine, Levy. They just want to make sure you're okay.” He watched as Levy seemed to consider something before stepping forward.

    No-Name turned to the others. “Come on...it's still Levy. What's the matter with you lot? You scared of a brother?” The other boys cast wary looks at one another, but they stepped forward as well. There were a few more tense moments before someone made a joke and the sound of their laughter filled the room. Levy grinned and Weave noted the relaxed set of his shoulders.

    Traxis caught his eye and the two men shared a knowing look before the scarred clone spoke in Mando'a. “He seems better.”

    I hope so, but I don't know...” Weave made a helpless gesture even as the boys were murmuring to one another; it sounded like Risky was sharing the layout of the ship with Levy, who was listening with interest. He paused, then shook his head and looked back at the scarred clone. “I'm not letting him go back. I'm going to stay with him.”

    He wasn't sure of Traxis' reaction, but his brother only nodded, his expression thoughtful as he watched the lads as well. “I'm thinking along the same lines here. You know what the long-necks will do to them if we let them go back.” He snorted and crossed his arms.

    Substandard. Inadequate. Losses within acceptable parameters. Weave shivered as the language of the Kaminoans trickled through his brain, but he was heartened by the knowledge that he was not alone in his decision. After some cajoling, Levy had been persuaded to pull back his sleeve; all the boys were examining the implant and speaking in low tones. Though he didn't seem entirely comfortable with the attention, Levy looked happy to be with his brothers again, which made the knot in Weave's chest unravel a bit more.

    So he looked up at Trax and continued to speak in Mando'a. “Are we ready to be deserters?”

    His brother shifted his feet and for a long moment he didn't respond. The boys broke into laughter about something – Levy was grinning as well – and he nodded, once. “Ready as I can be, I guess. Never thought it would happen.”

    Weave changed the visual feed of his implant and studied Levy and the boys, checking for any abnormalities in their bodies. They looked healthy and happy. He glanced back at Traxis. “I guess that's how these things go. The only constant is change, after all.”

    At this, Traxis gave a chuckle. Several moments later he tapped his chrono. “Kalinda wants to speak to everyone in the captain and Crest's room. We're going to figure out what everyone's going to do.”

    Weave nodded. “Sounds good.”

    *

    Thankfully, Master Altis seemed to have picked up on her thoughts, as he met Kali at the entrance to the meditation chambers, which were not far from the gymnasium. “The Chancellor's been kidnapped,” she said as she hurried up to him. “By Grievous.”

    He nodded and held up his own comlink. “I just received word from the bridge.” His face was pensive. “This is not going to end well, I fear. I tried to contact Yoda, to no avail. It seems that the battle is interfering with the planet's long-range communication systems.”

    Kali took a breath. “Master, I'm getting all of my people together...would you please come with me to the infirmary? We have a lot to talk about – even more now, it seems –and I think that you should be there.”

    Certainly,” he replied, lifting his hand to let her lead the way. They walked in silence for a moment before he glanced at her. “Your captain is awake, then?”

    She nodded but said nothing.

    Altis was quiet for another minute before he glancing at her again. “Before we go in there, Kali, I want to extend an offer to him, but I wanted to speak to you first: if he'd like to study here, he's more than welcome to do so. I could speak to the Council to get a sanction for him, so that he would not be labeled as a deserter.”

    That's very kind, Master, but I'm not sure he'll go for it...he's committed to his duty with the Republic.” Even as she spoke the words, she wondered at their veracity, a sentiment that the Jedi Master picked up on, given his reply.

    If my understanding is correct, Kali, he's committed to you.” Altis smiled but lifted his hand. “It is an invitation, merely. An option.” He gave her a look that missed nothing. “There are always options, Kalinda. For everyone.”

    Stone's been learning so quickly, but I'm limited to what I can teach him – especially with a lightsaber. Perhaps it would be a good thing for us to remain here for a time; he can train with a real Jedi Master – as he deserves to – and I can look into our Force-connection...perhaps investigate this planet where my mother and father journeyed, when the war is over. It was a tempting thought, indeed. It was also a comfortable middle-ground for her, as it meant that she would not be officially turning her back on the Jedi Order; her name would not be added to the list of the Lost Twenty. The Altisian Jedi were still considered a sect of the Order, albeit a fringe one, and their relief activities were sanctioned by the Council.

    I could do this work. I could perform mercy-missions and still provide aid to those who've been affected by the war. Hope was a fragile thread that began to twine through her thoughts as she cast a sideways look at Altis. But it would be a massive change. And it would mean giving up so much that I'd always taken for granted.

    She had a sudden, aching longing to talk to Obi-Wan about the whole matter, and found that she missed his steady presence as much as his calm counsel. But he's always been committed to the Jedi Order – the 'proper' Order – for as long as he's been alive. I doubt he'd be able to reconcile with my feelings on the matter, though Force knows he'd try. For my sake, if nothing else.

    Her thoughts turned to the other members of Shadow Squad; she wondered what they would do if she decided to join the Altisian Jedi. I would never ask them – any of them – to give up their places, but I don't want to desert them after all we've been through; nor can I expect them to abandon their posts. Milo was leaving of his own accord and she was happy for him, but she felt anxiety for the others. I'll talk to them, see what they think, and go from there.

    Again, she wondered what Stonewall would say. I hope he will understand. I think he will, if it means we could be together, really together...for what time we have left, anyway.

    Even though I'm older than him, I'll outlive Stone by many years. In her mind's eye she could see the withered face of an elder clone, a 'bad batcher' whom she'd met on Kamino and she shivered involuntarily. It feels like we'll be cheated of a normal life simply by virtue of genetics. It was a reality that she'd tried to ignore until recently.

    But now it felt like some hidden layer was cracking inside of her even as a potential future swam before her eyes. Something akin to a normal life. I'm not sure I even understand what that means. Could it happen? Would he even consider it? Some small part of her brain laughed at the notion while another grew thoughtful. I think he'll follow me anywhere. But at what cost? It's a huge step, after all.

    With a start she realized that she had been silent for far too long, and that Altis was regarding her as if her thoughts were written across her face. “Thank you, Master. I'll speak to him.” She nodded to the corridor. “Let's not waste any more time; we have much to do.”


    *****

    A/N: Shorter chapter today, but change is indeed in the air....


    Thanks for reading! :)
    gracesonnet likes this.
  23. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    Between Stonewall's dream and Order 66 approaching, I have a bad feeling about this.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    laloga likes this.
  24. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @gracesonnet:
    Truer words, my friend. ;)



    *****
    Chapter Fourteen: Riptide
    1084 days ABG

    It was a strange thing to turn his focus inward and attempt to mend his torn and injured flesh with the Force, but Stonewall was determined to be out of this infirmary as soon as possible. He had lain back against the pillows and sunk into a meditative state – just as he'd gone over with Kali – in order to concentrate on the parts of his body that needed healing the most. Primarily it was his limbs, as the fire had reached those areas first, but he also detected that his lungs had been affected by the carbon monoxide that had breached his suit. It was not easy to focus like this, especially with his stomach growling, but he found that he was unwilling to lie around any longer than necessary when he knew that so much needed to be done.

    A soft rap sounded against the entrance and he listened as Crest called out a greeting. Moments later, the door opened to reveal Traxis, Weave and five clone cadets, all of whom looked a bit overwhelmed even as two of them carried trays of food. One of them approached Stone while the other went to Crest. “Kalinda asked us to bring this to you,” Traxis said as he watched. “She's been running around this place like a headless nuna.”

    It was painful to sit up, but Stonewall managed as he took the tray from the boy. “Thank you..?”

    Sir. CC-6014, Captain sir.” The boy's face was solemn and Stonewall smiled.

    Just call me Stonewall,” he said. “What's your name?” The boy frowned and shook his head. Stone nodded. I reckon that should change, sooner rather than later. “Well, thank you, son.” He looked back at Weave, behind whom another cadet peeked out, watching the others. “Is that...?”

    Weave nodded. “This is Levy.” He glanced behind him and sighed. “He's still a little nervous.”

    Hello there, Levy,” Crest said. He'd sat up as well and was digging into the food with gusto. “And thanks....?”

    Keo, sir.” The cadet stepped back and clustered next to Traxis with the others.

    Crest took a large bite of a piece of nerf-steak. “I owe you one, Keo. This is pretty kriffing good.” The words were muffled as he spoke with his mouth full, and the lads giggled.

    Traxis rolled his eyes. “Way to set an example for the next generation, Crest.”

    My pleasure.”

    Stonewall looked at his brother. “Trax...what's going on? Where's Kali?”

    The scarred clone was prevented from replying as the door opened and General Tallis, her Padawan, and Milo entered the room. The red-haired Jedi immediately marched up to Crest and lifted the steak from his hand even as he was leaning forward to take another bite, pushing a dish of greens towards him. “No steak until you're on your own two feet. It's not what your body needs right now.” The bald clone opened his mouth to argue but she glared at him, so he snapped his jaw shut.

    Yes, sir.” There was resignation in his tone as he sighed down at the greens.

    She then looked at Stonewall, who speared his own steak and held the fork out to her, watching with amusement as she used the Force to toss the food into a garbage bin. The clone boys covered their mouths with their hands to muffle their laughter and Stone didn't miss how No-Name's eyes slid to the Padawan as she giggled as well. But before anyone could say anything further, Stonewall felt a familiar presence outside the door and watched as Kalinda entered the room, an elder Human man behind her.

    Everyone fell silent.

    Stonewall felt a flare of unease rise from the dark-haired woman at the sudden and complete attention of the others, but it faded quickly in light of her new focus. She glanced around the room, then murmured something to Milo and Traxis, both of whom stepped out of the door, returning a few moments later with several chairs which they set around the space, so that everyone could take a seat. In the meantime, she moved to Stonewall and settled beside him on the sleep-couch, studying him for a moment. I see you got something to eat.

    Yes, but your Padawan decided that nerf-steak was too intense for those of us on the mend. Crest is a little put out. He smiled as she lifted her eyes to the ceiling. Around the room, the boys and the Padawan watched them, though none of them said a word. Stonewall and Kali exchanged glances and he gave her a wry grin. I guess our secret's out, then?

    After a moment of debate, she shook her head and reached for him, giving him a quick but firm kiss. Right now, I could give less than a care. He chuckled and smoothed out her hair, some of his fear receding even as he felt the bewilderment from the clone cadets and the Padawan. When everyone had a seat, Kali took a deep breath and looked around the room. “In case you haven't heard, we just received word that Chancellor Palpatine has been kidnapped by General Grievous; there's a battle going on at this very moment above Coruscant.”

    At this, Stonewall sat up straighter – ignoring the pain – and put a hand on her arm. “The Chancellor?”

    According to what I could learn on the HoloNet, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker have been called in from the Outer-Rim sieges to rescue him.” Altis folded his hands in his lap. “If they are successful, it stands to reason that this could be the end of the war.”

    One way or another,” Traxis muttered.

    Kalinda nodded. “I have faith in Obi-Wan and Anakin, and I'm sure that the Council is on top of things.” Stonewall felt her thoughts linger to Kenobi, along with a flash of concern for the bearded Jedi that he found he shared.

    It's time for us to go back to the Core,” General Tallis said with a nod to her apprentice. “If this war has taught me anything, it's that there is always more than enough work for a healer. With a planet as populated as Coruscant, I can only imagine what the devastation will be.” Her voice was clear and Stonewall could sense that she was anxious to be gone, to do her duty. Beside her, the Nautolan girl looked pensive, though she was clearly trying to remain impassive.

    No one can get a hold of the Temple, Honi,” Kalinda replied. “I'd like to speak with Master Windu before we go charging in.”

    At this, Stonewall looked at her. “We?” He felt a thrill of dread when she nodded.

    Though I do intend to come back here, I need to return to Coruscant for now. There are some things I need to discuss with the Council.” She met his eyes and it took every iota of self control that he possessed not to shake his head. As it was, he wasn't sure he could speak over the thundering of his heart at her words.

    But it didn't matter, anyway, as Weave cleared his throat, causing all eyes to turn to him. “What of the cadets? Will you take them with you?”

    Kali took a moment to scan the boys' faces, all of whom were following the conversation of the adults. “What do you think, Weave?” She spoke in Mando'a, and his brother replied in kind.

    They'll be reconditioned, Kali.” The words were said without malice or bitterness, as if he was stating the state of the weather, but Stonewall felt their truth regardless.

    Her face paled. “How do you know?”

    Traxis answered. “They're too different; they've been through too much. The Kaminoans don't take kindly to....unique experiences at their age.”

    I was about the same age when they wanted to do so to me,” Weave added.

    Though he was sure that the boys didn't understand the meaning, Stonewall could feel their agitation in the Force; they were aware that the adults were speaking of them and they didn't like being left out of the loop. He cleared his throat. “He's right, Kali,” he said in Basic. “The Kaminoans won't allow them to continue on as they are.” His eyes fell on the cadets, who exchanged fearful glances but remained silent. Weave shot him a look that the captain ignored. They deserve to know the truth.

    Kali was silent for a moment; finally she took a deep breath and nodded. “Very well. I'm going to defer to your judgment on this, guys.” She looked at Altis. “You can keep them here until I return?”

    The elder Jedi nodded. “Of course, Kalinda. Any of you are welcome here.”

    Kali, what are we going to do with five clone cadets?

    I don't know right now, Stone. She frowned. But I do know that we didn't go through all of that – including you and Crest almost getting killed – to send them to get slaughtered on Kamino. She looked up at the cadets. “But before anything is decided, I'd like to know what you guys want to do.”

    They shifted nervously on their chairs and glanced at one another before looking at Traxis, who kept his features neutral. Finally, No-Name spoke. “We don't want to go back to Kamino.” His voice wavered a little until Zara smiled at him; at this, he sat up straighter and seemed to grow more confident. “But we're not cowards. We're soldiers. We'll do our duty to the Republic, no matter what, General Halcyon.”

    For now, your duty is to stay alive and learn what you can,” Weave said to the lads; Levy remained at his side, clutching at Weave's tunic while he listened to the exchange. The squad's medic looked back at the dark-haired woman. “I'll stay with them, Kalinda. For as long as I'm able.”

    And me as well,” Traxis said, sitting up a bit straighter in his seat.

    At this, Stonewall regarded his brothers; through the Force he could feel their determination to keep the boys safe, as well as a greater, as-yet unnamed desire that may have surprised him at one point, long ago. They've found something worth fighting for. He met each of their eyes and gave them each a reassuring look to let them know that he understood.

    Kalinda nodded. “Very well. In that case, the two of you can remain here and keep an eye on them. When I get back....” She paused and gave a shake of her head. “Well, we'll figure it out then, I suppose. I don't have all the answers right now.” A trickle of laughter rippled through the room at this, and Stone put a hand on her back.

    General Tallis nodded and stood up. “So, it's decided, then? When can we leave?”

    Honi.”

    The red-haired Jedi sighed and took her seat again, arms crossed in front of her chest. It was here that Milo sat up, his expression nervous. “Kalinda, I'd like to accompany you to the Core. I think it's time.”

    So he spoke with her about his promotion. Good lad. He'll make a fine officer.

    She met his eyes and gave him a small smile. “I'll be glad to have you along, Milo. And I'll be happy to write you a glowing recommendation.”

    At this, the rest of Shadow Squad began to exchange glances. “What's going on?” Crest asked, his voice nervous. “Mi...what are you talking about?”

    Milo's requested a promotion,” Stonewall replied. “A well-earned one, if I might add. Though we are going to miss you, Mi,” he added, looking at the younger clone, who gave him a smile in return.

    After several moments the bald clone nodded, as if absorbing the information and letting his customary good humor take over his reaction; even so, Stonewall could hear the tint of sorrow in his brother's voice. “Way to go, vod. Guess the next time I see you, I'll have to salute or something, huh?”

    Nah. I'll only make you clean my kit,” Milo replied. Traxis and Weave exchanged glances but said nothing, though Stonewall figured that would change later.

    Stonewall touched Kali's arm, drawing her gaze to him. “When do you want to leave? Normally, I'd say that I should get another day or so of rest before I'm fit to move, but with the Force-healing....” He trailed off at the look in her eyes. “No.”

    Stone-”

    Ignoring the shooting pain, he sat up as straight as he could and shook his head, trying to quell the fear that was throbbing along with his injuries. “No, Kali. No. You're not leaving me here.”

    She gave him an almost pleading look, dropping her voice in pitch. “You can barely sit up straight, Stone. Even with the Force, you won't be fit to travel for at least a week...and we need to go back immediately.” Something in her eyes made his chest tighten and he realized what it was that she was intending.

    You're going to leave the Order, aren't you? Her expression was blank but he knew her better than he knew himself. “You can't, Kali. You can't do it.”

    Can we talk about this later? Her thoughts were quiet and he glanced around, realized that everyone's eyes were on them, and nodded slowly.

    Later.

    They held each other's gaze for a moment more before she looked back at the others. “So, other than a few details, it's decided: Honi, Zara, Milo and myself will return to the Core; the rest of you will remain here to heal and look after the younglings. When I return....well....we'll just take it one day at a time.” She took a deep breath and leaned back, her body resting against his, and he was gripped with a potent mixture of love and fear, all of which was centered on her.

    But there's some for the rest of us as well, he thought as he looked around the room at the others. What will happen to us if the war really does end? Or if it doesn't?

    Beside him, he could feel that Kali was trembling.

    *

    Zara listened to the Jedi and the soldiers speaking with only part of her brain; the rest of her attention was on the clone boys that she'd become friends with over the last several days. Has it really only been a matter of days? I feel like I've known them for years and years. I suppose that's what happens when you go through an experience like we did. She swallowed and tried to keep her emotions quiet, as she noticed both Master Tallis and Kalinda glance at her as if they could sense her hesitation.

    It was nice for a little while, she thought. But I'll miss my friends. That was the word, she decided with a sigh. They're my friends. But I have a duty...I'm a Jedi, after all, and Jedi are not allowed to have attachments.

    Of course, that notion had been shaken when she witnessed the kiss between Kalinda and the clone captain, which – though small – was the strangest thing she'd ever seen. Should I have sensed that sooner? While they stared at one another, she cast a look at her master, who was shaking her head at the display. I guess she knows.

    After the strange interaction between Kalinda and the clone, the rest of the meeting was fairly uneventful and she found herself hoping she could take another swim before they left. As Master Tallis was speaking to Kalinda, Zara approached her. “Master? When will we be leaving?”

    The red-haired Jedi glanced at Kalinda. “That's a good question, Zara.”

    Tomorrow morning,” the other Jedi replied. “First thing. We'll take the Wayfarer.”

    Zara nodded. “In that case, would it be okay if I went for another swim?”

    I'd rather you spent the time meditating...” Master Tallis paused at a significant look from Kalinda before nodding at the Nautolan girl. “Very well. But meet me back here in an hour.”

    Grinning, Zara made a swift bow to the Jedi before stepping over to the clone boys; they were clustered around Levy but they all turned to her, even as she looked up at Traxis, who was engrossed in conversation with Weave. “I'm going to go for a swim....can they come?”

    The scarred clone nodded and glanced at the boys, all of whom – save Levy – looked delighted. “Sure thing, Commander.” He looked at his brother and spoke in the language that had been used earlier.

    After a moment, Weave glanced at Levy. “Do you want to swim as well?” The boy looked at his arm and Weave smiled, tapping the implant around his eye. “It's okay in water. I've tested it myself. But you don't have to go if you don't want to, Levy.”

    Come on, Lev,” Risky said, playfully nudging his brother's shoulder. “Or are you too scared?”

    Zara didn't miss the flare of anger that lifted from Weave, but Levy only grinned and gave his brother a playful punch in the arm, his expression challenging. No-Name nodded and looked at Weave. “He'll be fine, sir.”

    The adult clone looked doubtful but after a moment he nodded. He lifted his head and said something to Milo, who pulled a comlink out of his pocket and tossed it to Weave. “Here,” he said, handing the device to No-Name. “Stay in contact. If anything goes wrong....”

    It'll be fine,” Zara replied. “I'll keep them in line.” She kept her expression neutral and grinned inwardly at the others' looks of indignation.

    Weave nodded again and exhaled, sharing a look with Traxis, who clapped his shoulder. “Come on, vod,” the scarred clone said. “Let him go. We have some things to discuss here, anyway.” He winked at Zara, who grinned and looked at the others.

    Let's go.”

    No-Name smiled back. “We're right behind you, Commander.”

    *

    Weave watched them race out of the room, noting how Levy seemed more at ease than he'd been. Traxis chuckled. “They grow up so fast, don't they?”

    Shut up.”

    From his place at the bed, Crest spoke. “It's against regulation to have witty banter without me, you know.”

    The three Jedi were speaking in low tones, and Weave cast a glance at the captain, who'd remained silent, his eyes fixed on Kalinda and his expression guarded. Now what was all that about? He has to realize he's too injured to travel right now. He moved over to Stonewall and knelt beside him, making a show of checking the captain's chart. “I know that she's a pain, but General Tallis is right; you shouldn't go anywhere for a while.”

    Stonewall frowned and shook his head. “It's not me I'm worried about.”

    You mean Kalinda?” Weave glanced at the dark-haired Jedi, who looked to be debating something with her former Padawan. “I think she can take care of herself. And she'll have another Jedi and Milo.” Sergeant Milo...that's going to be strange. His younger brother was speaking with Crest, though his eyes kept darting to the red-haired Jedi at the other end of the room. Weave sighed inwardly and looked back at Stonewall. “She'll be okay, vod.”

    The captain's jaw tightened but he said nothing as his eyes remained fixed on the Jedi. A moment later, Traxis came over and soon the five men were gathered together in relative silence. Finally Crest sighed. “We're going to miss you...” The word “shiny” hung in the air as he paused, causing Milo to lift his brow. “...Mi,” the bald clone finished with a grin.

    I guess you won't be a shiny anymore,” Traxis added.

    Milo nodded. “It's been an honor to work with all of you,” he said, meeting each of their eyes. “I wouldn't be the man I am without you.”

    Damn. I'm going to miss that kid. Weave cleared his throat. “I think I want to go over the Wayfarer again, if you're going to take her to the Core....I could use some help.” Milo and Traxis nodded while Crest lifted his hand in an easy salute.

    Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on things here.” He watched as Trax and Milo slipped out the door before casting a look at Weave. “He'll make a good officer. Should have seen it coming, I guess.”

    The medic nodded before he followed his brothers. “Yeah. Me too.”
    gracesonnet likes this.
  25. gracesonnet Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2014
    star 1
    I could make a "Milo and Honi sitting in a tree" joke...but I won't.

    Traxis and Crest totally will though.

    Great, now I've got that song stuck in my head.
    laloga likes this.
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