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Saga The Face Behind the Helmet - DDC 2016

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by gaarastar58, Jan 4, 2016.

  1. gaarastar58

    gaarastar58 Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 19, 2010
    Title: The Face Behind the Helmet (Dear Diary Competition Entry 2016)
    Authors: Gaarastar & CheckSix
    Characters: Fives and Kix
    Timeframe: Final years of the Clone Wars

    Summary: ARC trooper Fives and clone medic Kix join the siege of Infernon, an industrial factory world. Each keeps a log of the horrors they encounter both on and off the battlefield. Little do they know they are each about to be tested to the breaking point. The log also includes some sketches that Fives does while on campaign.

    This DDC entry is a collaboration (apparently the first ever!) between myself and CheckSix. Fives' log entries are in black and Kix's are blue.

    For anybody not familiar with the Clone Wars series: Fives (ARC-5555) and Kix (CT-6116) were members of the elite 501st Legion (later known as Vader's Fist). The clones were tragic figures, fiercely loyal to a Republic that doesn't seem to care how many of them are slaughtered on the altar of "freedom". It's okay if you haven't watched the Clone Wars series, as this journal is a more personal look at Fives' experience of the war and his feelings about it.

    I have previously written a story centred around Fives where he goes up against Admiral Tarkin to save a young clone cadet from termination. It's not essential to read it, but it was written to explore Fives' way of thinking and there will be some references to those events in his journal.

    Weak Link: A Clone Wars Short Story


    Fives

    [Extract from journal of ARC-5555]

    From: GAR High Command. To: Gen. Sandar Pike, Jedi Master (Commanding 78thSector Army): Halt droid and munitions production on Infernon. No Retreat. No Surrender.

    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Official]: All Terrain Tactical Enforcer Unit, 102nd Legion, 3rd Armoured Bn, F-Company.

    CT-56-7932 (Major, 501st, 9th Bn): [Deceased]
    CT-56-8546 (Captain, 501st, 9th Bn): [Deceased]
    CT-57-2369 (Captain, 102nd, 3rd Bn): [Deceased]
    ARC-5555 (Lieutenant, 501st): [Officer Commanding F-COY]


    Day 97

    Anchor was killed yesterday. I mean CT-57-2369. Blaster bolt took him in the abdomen. Nothing we could have done. By the time the medics got to him his plastoid armour was fused to his flesh and his guts were burning. It wasn’t quick. He screamed for an hour. Why couldn’t it have been quick?

    So I guess I’m in charge now.

    We gained some ground again today. About eleven inches I think. Makes up for the eleven inches the droids pushed us back a week ago. Nothing’s changed. Nothing ever changes on this rock. We’re still living in our tanks. Crammed in like, well I don’t know, like a bunch of clones stuffed inside of a tank. I guess I’m not great with imagery. They didn’t teach that stuff on Kamino. It was all weapons drill and tactical manoeuvres. My first toy was a training remote which used to chase us around our barracks shooting stun-lasers at us.

    We haven’t been outside for weeks. Droid snipers pick us off if we stick our heads out. Sgt Weps made up a game to pass the time by poking a spare helmet outside on the end of a rifle and taking bets to see how many times the droids could hit it in thirty seconds. Trusty guessed nine and won the prize: an extra portion of rations. That’s all we’ve got to gamble with. That and ammo but we’d never bet that. It’s more valuable than creds or glitterstim. We don’t know when we’ll get resupplied.

    Let me tell you about my home.

    An AT-TE is a fortress on six mechanical legs. Twenty-two metres of durasteel armour, big enough to transport a platoon of troopers. Six laser turrets and a mass-driver cannon mounted on top. Two crew compartments front and rear. An empty crate in the corner for a toilet which gets emptied three times a day out the ventral hatch.

    The walls are smeared with blood. We’ve given up trying to wash it off. A direct hit from a hailfire droid missile really messed things up in here. We covered the hole with a durasteel patch we cut off the wreckage of another tank. Nine troopers were killed. Well, not killed. Ripped apart. Every now and again we still find a bit of them, fingers and such, stuffed down the backs of seats. The smell is beyond description. Like fifty years of putrefied sweat. We never get a chance to wash, in fact most of us live in our armour. One trooper who goes by the name Bucket never even removes his helmet. He just sits there in the semi-darkness, waiting for the next battle with a rifle cradled in his arms.

    I don’t even know why I’m bothering to keep this log. Nobody’s gonna read this. I mean, who wants to know about a bunch of clones stuck inside a stinking tank, crawling across the face of a backwater industrial moon? I suppose if someone’s reading this entry it means I made it through another day. If the log stops suddenly and there’s a lot of empty pages left I guess I didn’t make it.

    I was talking to a sergeant over at the quartermaster’s depot the other day. He told me the main export in this sector of Infernon is toys and he showed me a miniature clone trooper doll with a big bobble head he’d picked up from a bombed-out factory.

    What a fantastic thing to die for.


    Kix


    [Extract from journal of CT-6116]

    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Personal]: CT-6116 (Sgt, 501st).

    Day 97

    Lost another officer yesterday. I was called in on CT-57-2369. Captain. I’m sure he had a name, but I never knew what it was. Barely knew him at all. We’re losing so many men now that there’s hardly any point in learning the new ones’ names. Maybe it’s better that way. I used to like using names instead of numbers. But now, it’s easier to leave a number behind for the mortuary affairs team. Seems like that’s all I’m doing lately. Huh, if the mort team even shows up. They’re stretched so thin, half the time we just have to leave the dead behind. Last night, went out under cover of darkness with Tiner and Mink to look for the dead and the injured. That ended real quick when the droids starting flinging hailfires our way again. I jumped in the nearest AT-TE and I’ve been covering in here ever since. Feels like a tomb.

    Fives is in here, too. Hadn’t seen him in a long time – until CT-57-2369 . . . damn, I wish I could forget that. Anyway, he looks tired. They all look tired. Except there’s one guy . . . he didn’t take off his helmet all night. Gives me the creeps a little. Wonder if he’s losing it.

    I shouldn’t talk. I can’t even keep my own thoughts straight. I feel like I haven’t slept in days. Don’t even know what day it is. Great. Last thing my brothers need is a useless medic. I need some sleep. If I’m still here in a few days – and Helmet-guy is still here – maybe I’ll see if there’s anything I can do for him.
     
  2. Jedi_Lover

    Jedi_Lover Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Nov 1, 2004
    Wow! That is gritty. Nicely written.

    I often wondered what the armor stops? It doesn't protect against blasters...or Ewoks with rocks. It looks good, but doesn't seem to protect from much. Just curious if anybody out there knows any specs from an Essential Guide to Weapons and Armor or a similar book.
     
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  3. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2014
    I'm sorry to start a review of this otherwise excellent first entry with a "for dummies" comment, but can you link the previous stories in the series somewhere on the top, just in case somebody is not familiar with Fives or if they're - like me - realising that they're reading these stories in a wrong order? Or in general, folks who lack atten..hehe, a chunk of ice just fell from the roof across the street!

    Another thing that would help me a lot - and I am sorry if I'm asking you for a huge favour here - is some sort of links to referenced events, because I have only seen the last third of the Clone Wars film (was away from SW from 1994 to 2014) and there may be others who will love your writing who have not seen the Clone Wars series, yet willing to have you take them on this ride.

    I apologise for this little digression, I'm on to my review. Since I happen to connect the date of May 27th to various destiny-affirming points throughout life and Fives was originally CT-27-5555, I guess I was destined to read this. XD

    What strikes me most at first is that this starts from the day 97. Is this something that's canon or did something happen to the first 96 days' worth of diaries?

    This is a...major downer. But you pulled it off. I have a very strange take on what is and what isn't tasteful, but in general, when death, gore and violence seem natural, it's obvious that a person is writing for the sake of writing and not to get a kick out of people's reactions. These clones are people with actual feelings, yet they're treated as nothing but blaster meat. :(

    I guess it's normal to have a flashback of some scenes from The Force Awakens here, too? Not sure if this is a coincidence or if you're presenting the blood smearing and military transport as some sort of a leitmotif for suffering of the little man - whether one's a clone, recruit or somebody indoctrinated from their birth - but it comes together quite nicely!

    The parallel between a punch in the stomach - which this entry is - and Anchor's death by a shot in the abdomen, is pretty clever, too.

    I will definitely be reading this DDC! I am one of those scary people who call themselves pacifist, a huge fan of Remarque's anti-war rhetorics that is common throughout most of his novels, but a soldier in a futile war is still a person. And, unlike in real life, where I can get very hostile towards military folk from NATO countries, this will be an experience free of hostility.


    NOTHING can protect you from that. ;)

    P.S. I had a bet with myself that you'll be commenting on this even though it's not from your common era of interest, because you can relate to the topic and all, and I was right.
     
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  4. gaarastar58

    gaarastar58 Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 19, 2010
    It does seem a bit pointless, although in Rebels Rex seems to despise stormtrooper armour because it isn't as good as the armour the clones used, so I assume it is better than the later generations. I couldn't find much in the Essential Guide but I sure enjoyed digging all of them out from the back of my cupboard. Ewoks are unstoppable!

    Thanks Ewok Poet, I have added a bit more in the into for folk who haven't seen so much of the CW and linked my story, hope that helps.The "Day 97" is a vestige of a previous edit where I was going to start in the middle of the campaign but I've decided to go with a more chronological format from this point on, starting from when Fives first arrives on Infernon. I wanted to keep this as the first enrty though, so I guess you can treat is as a prologue.

    I was inspired to write this after reading a bunch of books about WW2, esp E B Sledge's book "With The Old Breed", a facinating insight into the lives of marines during the Pacific campaign. Don't get me wrong though, this isn't meant to be a military epic, but I always felt the films glossed over the morality of using sentient beings (essentially indoctrinated slaves) as cannon fodder. I'm interested in peeling back a bit of the romanticised image of war in the SW universe. Any further ideas to help it develop are most welcome.

    Thanks for the feedback guys!
     
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  5. CheckSix

    CheckSix Jedi Padawan star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 15, 2015
    This was great -- and now I'm going to read "Weak Link". Tell me, did you also have a diary for Fives from 2015 (before I go looking through the whole site -- I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate everything). I'd love to read it.

    My review: I loved your description of the interior of the AT-TE and the trooper "Bucket". The thing that saddens me is it just so realistic and reminds me of the mass casualties in some of my supported units in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I think that's what makes this appeal to me so much -- it does such a poignant job of capturing how horrific (and mind-numbing) ground combat can be.
     
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  6. gaarastar58

    gaarastar58 Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 19, 2010
    This is my first diary. I wanted to write Fives because I felt like of all the clones he was maybe the most rebellious and independent. We mostly see only the heroic side of war in SW so I decided it would be good to explore a different aspect of it. Hope you enjoy Weak Link, it was my first attempt at ff.
     
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  7. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Really good stuff. My favorite line was - "We’re still living in our tanks. Crammed in like, well I don’t know, like a bunch of clones stuffed inside of a tank. I guess I’m not great with imagery."

    I could never really get into the Clone Wars series and I've always hoped for a more Band of Brothers type of story from the conflict, just something a little more down to earth and not so cartoony and goofy. Thank you for answering my prayers.
     
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  8. gaarastar58

    gaarastar58 Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 19, 2010
    I'm glad you enjoyed it! This will definitely be more down to earth, and BoB was one of our inspirations to write in this style.
     
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  9. gaarastar58

    gaarastar58 Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 19, 2010
    Hi Guys, a quick update to avoid confusion: After some debate we have decided to begin the Journal on Day 1 to make it easier to read and easier for us to write, so while the previous entry on Day 97 still stands, treat it as a prologue to the journal and somewhere we will reach as the story progresses.


    Fives

    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Personal]: ARC-5555 (Lt, 501st).



    Day 1:

    Ground assault campaigns always start the same way: huddled inside the belly of a LAAT gunship listening to the whine of anti-aircraft batteries and surface-to-air missile salvos. Occasionally you hear a ping as shrapnel bounces off the armoured hatches or the boom as a missile finds its target.

    The descent to the surface of Infernon was a typical start to a campaign, albeit with a heavier concentration of ground fire than I’m used to. The gunship bounced around in the turbulent sky, and from the cockpit I could hear the pilots cursing as they dodged left and right to avoid the missiles streaking across their path. I’ve seen it all before (and much worse than this) but I felt sorry for the platoon of replacements I was sharing the gunship with. For them it was their first taste of a combat zone. They were shinie as anything.

    I remember my first combat drop like it was yesterday. Nobody forgets their first drop, and it was only a few short years ago that I was just like them, a trooper fresh out of battle-school on Kamino. Even though they were wearing their buckets I could feel them watching me, because I’m not like them anymore. Not just a combat veteran, but an ARC trooper.

    There’s a saying we clones have: if you want to take a difficult objective, send a hundred clone troopers to get the job done or, if you can get them, send four commando troopers. Or one ARC trooper.

    The replacements looked relieved when we finally made it to the surface. The pilot opened the side hatch, spilling light into the compartment. First impressions of Infernon weren’t great. Like a lot of industrial moons the sky is thick with pollutants, giving the air a heaviness that I can taste even through the filters in my bucket. Visibility was poor with only a dull orange glow to tell us from which direction the sun was shining.

    As the shinies started to unload crates of ammo and rations a clone wearing a tattered uniform jacket instead of armour came up leading a train of stretcher-bearers carrying wounded headed for the medical frigate in orbit. I helped the wounded onto the gunship. The men looked hollow-eyed and tired. They stared straight ahead and responded to commands but there was no spark in their eyes, like they were walking corpses. One of them kept muttering to himself, shaking his head and plucking at his medical scrub-shirt. I asked the medical officer what was the matter with him.

    ‘Battle-fatigue.’

    ‘Clone’s don’t get battle-fatigue. We’ve been conditioned.’

    ‘That’s what I thought until I landed on Infernon.’



    Kix

    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Personal]: CT- 6116 (SGT, CM, 501st).

    Day 1
    Landed on Infernon today. Barely. Our gunship took a hit in one of the ailerons, so we bounced around on the way down, but somehow Tip managed to land her in one piece. I never remember to tell him how glad I am he’s on our side. Sometimes us ground-pounders forget that the pilots need to have nerves of steel, too. At least, this time, all the LAATs made it down safely. I can’t think of the last time that happened. This is my sixth time on detachment duty. I hope it’s the last. I know it’s terrible saying that. Hardcase used to say we should take whatever assignment we’re given and make the most of it. Of course, he always made the most of blasting the whole place to smithereens. At least, he wasn’t afraid. Ever. I’d like to take his advice, but I’m not sure what there is to make out of this place. Only been here a few hours, and already I just don’t like the feel of things.
    It’s dreary and dark. The second I stepped on the surface, I felt this . . . I don’t know, oppression? Sort of like the way the sky feels before a storm. There’s something heavy and dull, but also an anxiety . . . it’s constant. It’s as if everyone’s waiting for something to happen. I could tell right away that the Shinies sensed it, too. Fully half this detachment is made up of Shinies. My ship was nothing but Shinies. This seems like a pretty rotten place to send first-timers. But I guess there’s no such thing as a good assignment anymore. Hm, some guys would say there was never such a thing as a good assignment. I disagree, but I think I'm definitely in the minority on that one.

    I got them started unloading supplies, but one of the air ops guys jumped all over us, telling us we were cluttering up his airfield. I told him we’d be moving the stuff out as soon as everything was off-loaded, but he told us to move them now. I’m not sure what planet he was from, but he sure as hell wasn’t a clone. And after General Krell, maybe I'm a little more wary of . . . well, non-humans. It's not the right thing to say, so I keep that opinion to myself. But I just found myself looking at this ops guy and wondering if he hates clones, too. We got into a bit of an argument, and I guess he didn’t like my response, because he wanted to know who my commanding officer was. I told him Major Vox was the mission commander. Don’t know if he ever found him. I didn’t get called out on the carpet yet, so that’s a good sign.

    Found the garrison dining facility . . . such as it is. A couple tents strung together. They told me the original D-fac got hit by a missile two weeks ago, dozens of troops killed. Anyway, the garrison soldiers seem okay. They had a lot to tell me about what it’s like here, asked who I pissed off to get this assignment. Warned me about a couple officers to watch out for. I appreciate them trying to be helpful, but I like to form my own opinions.

    In the barracks now, waiting for orders for tomorrow. Listening to the conversation among the Shinies. A lot’s changed. They don’t sound nearly as excited as me and my batchers were on our first mission. I guess all the rumors about the truth are finally making their way back to Kamino. Gonna go talk to a few, see if I can get a feel for these guys. We're going to be together for the next few months at least.
     
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  10. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    The combined entry (for day 1) - excellent and definitely not confusing. The two POVs are already distinct but still show the same situation from a different side of things: a ground-trooper versus a medic. =D= :cool:
     
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  11. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2014
    Glad to see that combined diary worked out just fine and that, on top of it, we get two POVs for single events. :)

    And I apologise in advance for comparing both of you to Remarque. It's the biggest possible compliment I can give to anybody, more or less. [face_blush]

    Kix's addendum to the prologue:
    Now, that is depressing. I think of 509, the protagonist of Spark of Life and how he had to battle to remain human, amidst everything that living in the concentration camp threw at him. And since Kix is a clone, his battle is twice as demanding as 509's: he needs to remain one of the guys, as well as human (with a small h - referring to a decent person and all), while watching people become numbers.

    Wondering if the character not taking the helmet off will matter further on...[face_thinking]

    Fives' entry:
    Whoa...that planet has been appropriately named, wasn't it? Lasciate ogni speranza voi che c'entrate! Sounds a bit like Duro and Froz - to the point where devastation from war won't make it look much different. Eeek.

    Fives' mind seems to have evolved to the point where he's grasped the entire hierarchy. As much as the clones are gun fodder here, some are more of gun fodder than others. After everything he's been through, he's privileged in some odd way and able to see the situation both outside, looking in and inside, looking out.

    Kix's entry:
    This is like a bastard child of Hemingway and Remarque war novels, transferred to the GFFA.

    There is a strong sense of not belonging and there are multiple layers of it: being somebody who's already seen it all among so many n00bs, being a clone and a Human who appears to be starting to get weary of non-humans (may be a skewed perception, as aliens may be perceiving clones differently from other Humans?) and being the one who once had enthusiasm among the Shinies who are aware of what they're being thrown into even before they're sent off Kamino to their first mission.

    Either way, I am reading something you wrote for the first time and I love the layered approach you seem to have to...everything?!


    Looking forward to more from both of you!
     
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  12. CheckSix

    CheckSix Jedi Padawan star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 15, 2015
    Thank you, Ewok Poet, for your kind review. I am honored by your comparisons For my own part, I can safely say my primary writing influence is Richard Adams of Watership Down fame. I do hope you will continue to enjoy the journal. Gaararstar and I have been quite in sync with our writing, so I think it's going to be a pretty intense pair of journals.
     
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  13. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    This is off to a very impressive start! You've got that gritty, no-nonsense POV of the "common soldier" down—of course when one is dealing with a clone army, the whole idea of what the "common soldier" is a vastly different one, and I can see that theme is going to be explored here in very interesting ways. The way we're introduced to the clone troopers in the films is, all in all, a very sanitized one—but of course inside a huge behemoth of a vehicle like an AT-TE conditions simply can't be other than what you describe, right down to the one eccentric fellow who won't remove his helmet, Kix's ruminations on using names vs. numbers, and the very believable latrine crate dumped out the ventral hatch. Things like that are such powerful details—as is the very important distinction between "killed" and "ripped apart." (And one has to ask, which of those two things is more emotionally affecting for a clone trooper at this point in galactic history?)

    "Clones don't get battle-fatigue"—this was one of my favorite moments, because there the unique situation of the clones really did come through—they are both exactly like other soldiers and different. But there's another side to it too—it means they're expected to be superhuman, nonhuman, on a constant basis. And under such conditions very human things like battle fatigue are only going to get magnified to the nth degree. "Shinies" as the slang for first-timers is, in its way, very poignant and very specifically clone trooperish: the scuffs and dirt that the armor invariably will pick up (and keep) are a pretty darn perfect analogue for the scars that the soldiers will eventually pick up (and keep).

    Like Ewok Poet, I find Kix's distrust of non-Humans intriguing—there really seems to be more there than just garden-variety xenophobia, and as she surmises I think it might stem from the differences non-Humans perceive between clones and other Humans, or even from the differences clones perceive between them and other humans. Will be interested to see how it plays out.

    I like the concept of the two different narrators, each telling a slightly different side of the same story and each written by a different author—that's a clever idea (and quite a new one too, as I recall) that I can see giving a whole new dimension of depth to a story like this. So far Fives's and Kix's accounts of the situation seem to be mostly in agreement—will that change? And what might it mean if it does? [face_thinking]

    Looking forward to more of this! I would love to be tagged on updates, if you do that sort of thing. :cool:
     
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  14. CheckSix

    CheckSix Jedi Padawan star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 15, 2015
    Thank you for your review, Findswoman. I think you will enjoy seeing how the POVs diverge in future entries.
     
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  15. gaarastar58

    gaarastar58 Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 19, 2010
    Fives

    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Personal]: ARC-5555 (Lt, 501st).

    Day 2

    I woke up this morning to the sound of children playing on the wreckage of a saber-class tank. A hailfire missile had blown a gaping hole in the armoured chassis and the kids were ducking in and out of the broken shell, pretending to be clones fighting against the droids, shooting at each other with sticks. I watched them for a long time. It’s strange that even in the middle of a warzone you’ll always find children playing amongst the rubble. Kix tells me they’re probably war-orphans. Why is it that in a war it’s always the innocent bystanders who suffer the most? Old people get turned out of the homes they’ve lived in all their lives, families become separated and little kids like the ones playing out there get blown up. Why? I feel like I used to know the answer but now I’m not so sure.

    A woman appeared and called the children away to get breakfast. I got up and strapped on my armour. Watching those kids got me thinking about the games we used to play in the dorms back on Kamino. All of our games were war-based of course, and we used to spend ages messing around, building forts out of the bedsheets and pillows, wrestling and playing catch. I guess in some ways we had no more choice about being caught up in this war than those orphan-kids do. I always figured that we were sacrificing our freedom for the greater good but after what happened on Umbara and Kamino, I can’t stop myself thinking that maybe it would have been nice to have a choice about how I wanted to live my life.


    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Personal]: ARC-5555 (Lt, 501st).

    Day 2 (Cont.)

    My opinion of Infernon isn’t getting any better after exploring the forward staging area. It’s organised chaos without the organisation and even the chaos had a lot more mud, bad odour and acid rain clouds than I’m used to. Just keeping dry in this place is going to be a challenge.

    This morning I went with Maj. Vox to visit the CP. The medical officer we met in the landing area showed us the way. Says his name used to be Patcher and he was a medic with the 708th, but with the mauling the men on Infernon have taken he’s acting battalion surgeon. Now everyone calls him Sawbones.

    The medical supplies we brought with us have helped but it’s not nearly enough. Everything seems to be in short supply, including rations and ammunition. Sawbones tells me that troopers will eat anything with four legs except a table and everything with six legs except their tanks. I guess that’s what passes for humour on this ball of mud. The problem is the Seppies have got the moon blockaded and so we can only get supplies in when a strong force manages to punch through every now and again, so I guess we’re really on our own out here. Sawbones led us past a line of rifles with empty helmets mounted on top.

    ‘Sometimes the bodies we get back are chewed up so bad we can’t identify them, so we put their buckets out here and hope one of their mates can identify them from the markings,’ Sawbones told me. He glanced up at the design on my bucket, clearly thinking it was distinct enough to recognise if it ever found itself amongst the ranks of the unidentified fallen.

    ‘It’s supposed to be a Rishi eel. One of them took out one of my pod-brothers on my first mission,’ I said to him.

    Sawbones nodded. He’s got that faraway look in his eyes that soldiers sometimes get when they’ve been in action for too long, like they’ve seen too much and their heads just space out to protect them from the horror. I saw it in a lot of the faces I passed by on my way to the CP. Most of the troopers we pass are still wearing the stage 1 style armour that’s been phased out in the rest of the GAR. Just how long have these poor guys been stuck out here?

    When Vox and I arrived we were shown straight in to see Cmdr. Clank and Jedi Cmdr. Cam Tolar. I’d heard from Sawbones that Master Pike had been killed a week ago and that his Padawan had taken over as commander of the 78th. I didn’t have a problem with that, I’ve seen what Jedi, even young Jedi, are capable of, but I was shocked by just how young Cam Tolar is. Can’t be more that twelve. He stared up at us from underneath a tangle of blond hair. Looks like he hasn’t slept in years.

    Cmdr. Clank nodded at Vox and me as we entered. It’s easy to see how he got his nickname: both his arms from the elbow down are prosthetics. ‘Held onto a grenade for too long,’ he joked (more Infernon wit) as he called up a holo-map of the capitol. Areas controlled by the Republic were highlighted in blue while the Seppie territory was marked red. Sure was a hell of a lot of red.

    ‘We’re glad to have you here of course, but when I asked for reinforcements I thought I’d get more than a few hundred men,’ grumbled Clank.

    ‘We were all General Skywalker could spare,’ replied Vox.

    ‘I know, I know, there are areas of more strategic importance than Infernon. Better some men than none at all. I’m glad to see you in particular Fives. Our regular troops are struggling against an impressive defence by the local militia and we need ARC troops on the fron lines to support them. Most of ours have been killed.’

    ‘What’s the situation?’ asked Vox.

    ‘Infernon allied itself with the Separatists at the start of the war and converted many of their factories to produce droids and munitions for the Seppie war effort. They were turning out huge quantities of battle droids and tanks which had to be stopped. When the Republic forces invaded to halt production they expected the militia to be swept aside in a few days, but instead of engaging in frontal assaults the local forces employed a deep pocket defensive system, scattering small groups of militia all over the city, forcing the Republic to clear them out one-by-one. The locals have the advantage of numbers and they know the layout of the city better than we do. The fighting on Infernon has dragged out for more than a year now with relatively little success and heavy losses. We lost General Pike last week during a massive assault on our front lines.’

    ‘We don’t know that he was killed,’ said Cam Tolar. I sensed he hoped more than believed his master to be alive.

    ‘He’s gone lad,’ said Clank, his voice gentle but firm.

    ‘I have a suggestion,’ I said. ‘Whistle up a squadron of Y-wing bombers and pound the militia into dust.’

    ‘Can’t do that,’ said Clank. ‘We need the factories intact, and even if we didn’t there’s the civilian population to consider. We have to take Infernon the hard way. I’m assigning you to the 102nd armoured battalion. They’ve had some of the heaviest losses and some of the fiercest fighting. At the moment they’re being commanded by Captain Anchor, one of the best leaders we’ve got. You are to head out and take overall command and hold the line as best you can.’

    ‘Aye sir.’

    ‘One last thing, we’d like to speak to Fives alone.’

    Vox left. I stood, unsure what was coming next. Clank pulled out a fold-down chair and took a seat, looking up at me with a searching expression in his face.

    ‘We’ve been stuck out here for a long time, but we still hear a lot of rumours, such as what happened on Umbara.’

    I could feel Clank’s eyes boring into me as I answered. ‘General Krell wanted us to engage in a frontal assault. It would have been suicide. I disobeyed orders because I wanted to save lives.’

    Clank grunted. ‘In my opinion you should have been decorated for that little stunt. A word of warning though, you’ve become something of a living legend even by ARC standards, and you may have to deal with troopers who think you can perform miracles. I don’t need to tell you how dangerous hope can be for a frontline soldier.’

    I understood. Hope can be as deadly as a blaster bolt. Soldiers need a healthy amount of fear to stand any chance of surviving a battle. Fear keeps their heads down under heavy fire and keeps them alert while on watch. I left the CP feeling heavy with responsibility.

    [​IMG]

    Kix

    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Personal]: CT- 6116 (SGT, CM, 501st).

    Day 2

    Late night last night, talking to the men. They were all too wired to get any decent sleep. Besides, I got the impression they needed to talk. Infernon clearly isn’t what they were expecting. I resisted the urge to ask them what they thought war was going to be like, especially considering they haven’t even seen actual combat yet. They all seem confident enough but in no hurry to test their skills on the battlefield. So different from my early days. There is one, PB – short for Pointblank – who definitely knows his stuff. He’s no-nonsense, and the others seem to look up to him. I actually believe he’ll do well in battle. Don’t know why – I just have a feeling about him.

    One thing kind of interesting. They all wanted to ask me about Fives. They knew I’d served with him on and off and that we were both on Umbara. They’d heard all the stories, and now they wanted to know if they were true. I told them what had happened, and I think it made them feel better to know they had someone in the head shed putting their welfare first. They wanted to know if Umbara was as bad as had been reported. I told them to look at the casualty lists. It’s still hard for me to talk about that whole thing. I’d never lost it until then. That was the first time I’d truly been afraid that we were all going to die, and I let it get the better of me. It was also the first time I saw just how difficult it is to be first-in-command. I don’t know how Rex held the battalion together. We were all coming apart at the seams. Fives did what had to be done. But these kids don’t know what a difficult decision that was for him. And they don’t know the position it put the rest of us in. Those were some of the worst moments of my life. I didn’t want to choose. How could I ever go against my captain? Well, that’s over and done with now. I just don’t want these kids to romanticize what happened on Umbara. It was the closest I’d ever come to hell.

    Of course, this place might just take over that position. Major Vox and Fives are off getting the mission brief from the field commander – I don’t recall his name. I just came from checking out the field hospital in the FSA*. It’s a collection of dingy, pre-fabs that look like they’ve been patched and repatched a dozen times. Conditions are deplorable. The place is filthy, and the stench is not like I’ve encountered in any other field hospital anywhere else in the galaxy. There are these little black beetles – they’re everywhere, and they go straight for open wounds. That’s as much as I’ll say on that. There’s no sanitation. They don’t even have the supplies to sterilize all their instruments. They’ve had to resort to using hot water and puripacks half the time. They haven’t even got a single bacta tank. There’s a medical frigate in orbit, and the critically wounded have to be sent there. Except they’re not. One of the first things I noticed when I arrived was that they had injured men on stretchers on the floor in the hallways. Dozens of them. They were in bad shape, but they seemed to only be getting palliative care. I found the acting Battalion Surgeon – it was Patch, though they call him Sawbones now. I remember him from ACMT.** He was a piston back then, but he’s not the same man now. He’s cold and detached. He seemed kind of bitter, too. Not at all like I remembered him. But I guess I’m not the same either. I asked him why so many of the critically injured hadn’t been evacuated – they could have been sent out on the same ships that brought us in. He told me that only troopers who had a chance of recovery were being evac’d. He said they didn’t have the resources to try and save the others. I told him what I thought about that, and he told me to wait a ‘til I’d been here a few weeks and then I’d be qualified to offer an opinion. He sounded defeated, and so I just moved on.

    Things only got worse after that. I guess I never really wondered what happened to our dead after we left the combat zone. My responsibility has always been to the living. Mortuary teams always took care of the dead. I’ve always known that they cremate the bodies, but even among our own forces, I didn’t know how little respect there is for the remains of a fallen soldier. The morgue at the FSA was full to capacity. The stoker told me only two of the four furnaces were firing, so they were backlogged. The bodies were just laid out in rows, head to foot, stacked one on top of the other, six or seven bodies deep. I’ve never seen anything like that before. There must have been hundreds of bodies in there. No one seemed to care that soldiers, my brothers, were piled up like dead animals.

    After that, I felt like I needed some air. I was passing back through one of the wards and that’s when I ran into Mink. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen him since he left the 501st to join Sector Headquarters as one of their medics. He was doing orderly work – I’m sure it wasn’t what he thought he’d be doing at HQs level. I decided to give him a hand. I don’t know why, but it made me feel better seeing him again. He seemed to have weathered the war pretty well. He’d been an optimistic guy in ACMT, and I could tell that he still is. With what I’ve seen here, I don’t know how he’s managed to stay so upbeat. He’s been here since the start of the campaign. I can only imagine what that’s been like. While we were talking, a woman came in. She was looking for a blanket, and Mink gave her one from his cart. Turns out she’s a nurse running a local shelter for war orphans. One of her kids is in our hospital – got injured in a minefield while they were out scavenging for equipment to sell for food. Mink said she’s a regular visitor, coming to see if she can scrounge any supplies. He said she’s okay, but I didn’t much care for her. She couldn’t even bring herself to call us troopers or soldiers. To her, we were just, “Hey, clone.” She didn’t like the fact that we’re here, but she said she’d rather have us than the Seppies. That didn’t make me feel any better. Another civilian who has no appreciation for what we’re doing. We’re trying to protect her and her way of life. I guess it’s like Rex always says, “Gratefulness isn’t a prerequisite for doing our jobs.” I really wish the captain was here now. I feel like this is going to be one long slog.

    Wonder if the major is done with his brief. Waiting for orders is the hardest part.

    *Forward Staging Area
    **ACMT = Advanced Combat Medic Training
     
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  16. CheckSix

    CheckSix Jedi Padawan star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 15, 2015
    Sheesh, you are one talented artist!
     
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  17. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Okay, my brain is totally fried tonight and I'm writing silly stuff in various threads instead of reviewing your (amazing) fic, so I'm just going to drop a few telegraphic comments tonight before I fall so far behind that I need to write an encyclopaedia and I'll come up with a better review next time.

    (Edited because I somehow clicked "post" too early)

    A lot of readers before me used "gritty" to describe your writing and it's definitely the appropriate epithet here. There's a real vibe of World War I novels from the French front -- there's a quote whose author I can't quite place right now, but I think it's from a letter written by a soldier to his family circa 1916: "L'enfer c'est la boue" ("Hell is this mud").

    The two entries/two voices for each day work really well. I don't know how much coordination you two are doing behind the scenes, but for now it really feels that your two characters are progressing in parallel and understanding slowly where they landed themselves -- or not so slowly, some images like the piles of bodies in the morgue speak volumes. However, I can imagine how the two POVs are going to diverge after a while, as these two are definitely not seeing this bit of the war from the same perspective.

    You also both do a great job at showing how the Republic perceives the clones as expendable -- so much so, in fact, that it seems some clones themselves have assimilated the idea. I also like how you show that clones develop individual personalities with time. The Shinies don't have names or "faces" yet, but that will come.

    That's it from me for now, I promise I'll write more for your next entry.
     
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  18. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2014
    Fives

    Incredibly grim and depressing.

    The contrast between kids who are orphaned by war itself playing in rubble, vs. clones who were orphaned by how they came to this world knowing of nothing but the war, even when it comes to leisure. Never thought about this. And when the super-young Jedi Cmdr. appears later in the chapter, another person robbed off his childhood but in a completely different way, it's a superb, albeit scary gradation.

    I can’t stop myself thinking that maybe it would have been nice to have a choice about how I wanted to live my life.

    And this thing with stolen youth hit me hard. It's a thought many of us who have been close to a war or in a war have all the time. And this doesn't change once it's over, you always think a part of your life was stolen from you.

    Patcher/Sawbones sounds fairly disturbed, which - in turn - makes him disturbing. He reminds me of those gravediggers in comics who measure the body before the battle even takes place, especially with the moment where Fives actually notices it.


    And I'm sorry to be drawing parallels to books from our galaxy and real-life events, but this one strongly reminds me of the Siege of Petersburg, combined with All Quiet on the Western Front, For Whom The Bell Tolls and - given the disgusting bits and slight, slight surrealism, a hint of Pretty Village, Pretty Flame. Low supplies, overall depression, numbness to what is going on.

    The only thing I was surprised with is that Fives proposed a solution that would result in "collateral damage" at some point.


    Kix

    From how these younger clones are trained to behave and how they already know that they should be asking Kix about Fives, I get this celebrity fan community vibe, almost, with romanticised . It's interesting how quick a myth is built. I wouldn't want to be Fives right now - not only that he has more responsibility than these youngsters who look up to him, but the cult of personality of any kind comes with incredible baggage. And that almost makes Kix some sort of a VIP to them, which is...pretty awkward.

    On the other hand, Kix is able to separate the said myth from the facts and is able to see the grim side of it, the weight of decisions on the shoulders of his battle mate. And given that he's in this awkward token-leader-of-the-fanclub position, that says a lot about the strength of his mind. Sometimes, these romanticised versions can replace the reality and that's NOT good.

    One thing I wonder is how the young clones would react to the truth. Would they call Kix jealous of Fives? A suck-up? A liar? Something even worse? All of it?

    Kix seems to have more sympathy for Patch/Sawbones, likely given that they share the profession, but at the same time, I am getting a bad vibe of this guy from him, too - not as much as I do from Fives, but I do. I feel like he's a PTSD tirade waiting to happen!

    And evacuating only those who have chance of a recovery? Yikes! Almost as morbid as cutting off people's limbs instead of operating on them in pre-XX century wars. These poor people are a cordon sanitaire, pure gun fodder, they're disposable to the Republic. :(

    This was in my head during the morgue scene. The rest of the song, [hl=black]"Paraffin" by ruby[/hl] has absolutely nothing to do with anything even remotely sane, but the chorus...it fits, somehow.

    Are we all wrapped up, wrapped up together
    Are we all wrapped up, fit for the kill
    Are we all wrapped up, stacked up together
    Fit for the kill



    Interesting structure with Fives' story beginning with that woman and Kix's story ending with it and how even she, stuck between the two sides in this conflict, sees the Clones as nameless. :(

    ...


    Enjoying the POVs and this is the first time that they're slightly different, even with the detail being just the said woman.
     
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  19. CheckSix

    CheckSix Jedi Padawan star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 15, 2015
    Thank you, Chyntuck and Ewok Poet.

    With regard to your comments---

    Gaararstar and I do a fair amount of coordination behind the scenes, but since we're both pretty much on the same sheet of music, we don't need too much. We work a few entries ahead of schedule and so far, we've gone mostly with our first drafts.

    The WWI (and WWII) vibes are definitely there. When I watch TCW, I see mostly WWII type scenarios, but there is something about the trench warfare and complete degradation of humanity from WWI that is very fitting for this particular battle. And given that this takes place after Umbara, there's all the psychological turmoil wrought by that experience.

    Yes, I do have images of AQ on the WF in my head when I write this, but also A Midnight Clear (too disturbing, I can't recommend you watch it). EP, interesting quote re: the morgue. I think you will enjoy a certain part in the next entry on that very subject.

    Again, many thanks!

    Ewok Poet
    Chyntuck
     
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  20. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Fives

    "O dear white children, casual as birds,
    Playing amid the ruined languages,
    So small beside their large confusing words,
    So gay against the greater silences
    Of dreadful things you did . . ."
    —W. H. Auden, Song for St. Cecilia's Day

    OK, it's technically about something different, but it's what came to mind immediately when I read that passage of yours quoted above.There is something very primally compelling about the image of children playing in any old, worn, dilapidated, and/or partially destroyed place. I guess it's the way it throws the whole old-new, old-young dialectic into such stark relief, or something along those lines; they don't know anything about the history of those old, ruined structures except that they're good to play on in the here and now. For a clone trooper like Fives, though, there's an added dimension, because (and Ewok Poet pointed this out too) he never got to experience the kind of carefree childhood those children have; he was essentially trained to be a warrior from day one. Even his childhood games were a means of preparing him for it—there never was really play for its own sake. So it's natural that the scene gets him wondering so many things about the nature of his own life and how it might have been different if he had had a little more choice in things.

    And oh, EP is so right, the rest of this is sooo depressing (albeit in a good way). I'm not sure I'll have much more to say about beyond what she has already said, especially since she's lived a lot closer to this sort of thing in real life than I have. Sawbones's grim demeanor (and equally grim name)... the rows of helmets atop rifles (complete with your very nice sketch)... the grim joke about how Clank lost his arms... the almost disturbing youthfulness of Cam Tolar (I always thought it so odd that even the tiniest padawans were made such high-ranking officers in the Clone Wars—Jedi powers or not, they're kids!)... the huge expectation heaped upon Fives at the end as a potential miracle worker... the way the Umbara incident is following him around and causing those expectations to pile up... just... whoof. At least Clank seems generally sympathetic to Fives, and Fives is picking up on that. That's a glimmer of something, anyway.

    Kix

    What a position our medic is being placed in—having to field all the questions about Fives and probably clear up no small number of misconceptions about him—and most importantly, as he himself points out, to guide these young and callow troopers away from undue romanticization. And it adds insult to injury—or maybe injury to insult, or maybe both—to have that happen in this constant atmosphere of no one giving a care about what these soldiers are doing and what they're fighting for. The visit of the woman shows that up in the starkest possible way. "Hey clone"—really, just really, lady?! And there's a certain amount of chutzpah in the way she insists on scrounging their supplies, yet makes no secret of the fact that she doesn't really like having them around. I wonder if we'll hear and see more of her. Add to that the general conditions of the place—the beetles going for the wounds made me shudder! Like EP says, Kix really should watch out for himself—it is clear that all of these things are bearing down on him in a deeply psychological way, and the eventual results could be very grave indeed. [face_nail_biting]

    Looking forward to more—you've got a real touch for writing these military characters and situations in a convincing, realistic way, and I admire that a ton because it's something I was never good with. :cool:
     
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  21. CheckSix

    CheckSix Jedi Padawan star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 15, 2015
    Findswoman, Thank you very much for the review.

    I'll speak to your comments regarding Kix and leave Fives for G. I like how you picked up on the theme that the clones (at least, Kix) consider themselves to be fighting for a noble cause, but the people they are protecting don't appreciate it. Kix hasn't reached the point of being disaffected yet, but he's definitely missing something in, shall we say, his support structure ;) Full disclosure: the introduction of the woman was G's idea, as was the impersonal, "Hey clone!" address.

    If you're familiar with the Umbara arc, you may recall that Kix lost his military demeanor with Rex at one point, then he plain lost his wits at another and was pulled to safety by Tup at the last second. The bizarre descent of the 501st under Krell (the whole scene after they take out the caterpillars and are walking among the wreckage is so Platoon--now we're into Vietnam) figures very prominently in Kix's view going forward.

    And what a nice compliment about writing military characters. For my own part, I work for the U.S. Army and am fortunate enough to have a whole "battery" of advisors who are more than happy to contribute their expertise when I need it.

    Again, many thanks for the review.
     
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  22. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    Well, there's nothing I could say that wouldn't just be reiterating what's already been said by other users. But I will say that this is fantastic work! I love all of the Clone-esque jargon and all of the little things like the furnaces and unidentified troopers. Although you'd think the armor would have some sort of serial marking they could link with the assigned trooper, not because the GAR actually cares who was lost, rather how many so casualty reports can be as accurate as possible.

    I don't know if you're aware that you've tied these two things together (You probably are) but when Kix found the furnaces and piles of Clone bodies, it reminded me that, when at war, Mandalorians actually bury their people in mass graves as a part of their belief in the collective consciousness, Manda. Just thought that was a neat little nod.

    That's another thing I don't think was ever really explored regarding the Clones outside of the RC books, but do they cling to any religious beliefs? I can imagine at least some would, and very well might be ostracized because of it.
     
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  23. CheckSix

    CheckSix Jedi Padawan star 1

    Registered:
    Dec 15, 2015
    Thanks, Glor, for the review. I had no idea about the Mandalorians and the mass graves. That's a cool insight. When I wrote the scene, I was only thinking of (and this is terrible) the furnaces at the concentration camps at Auschwitz/Birkenau. I took a tour there once, and the furnaces are an image that has stayed with me for a long time. I used the concept of mortuary teams from my own experience in the military, plus some research into WWII mortuary teams.

    I have wondered about the clones and their beliefs, because you'd think that working around the Jedi and seeing that the Force certainly exists, they'd have some thoughts on the supernatural. Then, given the Night Sisters, the Father/Son/Daughter bit, the Midiclorians (sp), it seems to me that the SW universe is rife with religion or at least spirituality. Not sure if it all centers around the Force. It is a fascinating topic: have any of the clones adopted religious or spiritual beliefs? And how is that looked upon?

    Again, thanks for the review and food for thought!
     
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  24. Glor

    Glor Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Sep 6, 2015
    That's what initially came to mind, but I figured that was a given, since the scene seemed to be trying to illustrate how war can make the participants pretty detached from normal, empathetic notions. Exemplified by how disrespected and uncared for clone bodies are. That and most of the time they're seen and treated like droids, even by the Jedi Commanders. Non-living things with no lasting value. Very haunting and very well done.
     
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  25. gaarastar58

    gaarastar58 Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Dec 19, 2010
    Fives

    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Personal]: ARC-5555 (Lt, 501st).

    Day 3

    We found the troops of the 102nd armoured battalion cooking their evening meals in upturned helmets. From the smell whatever they had found to eat had been dead for a long time. They had parked their AT-TE tanks in a rough defensive circle around their camp. None of them looked up as we climbed out of the A6 juggernaut that had brought us up to the front line. I’ve been in a lot of battles in my short life, but even I was shocked at the state the men of the 102nd were in. When they arrived on Infernon their armour must have been gleaming white like the rest of the army, but now its covered in mud, scored by blaster bolts and splattered with blood. I could barely even see the dark red flashes of their legion colour or rank insignia. The men themselves appeared gaunt and listless, their faces hollowed out by hunger and relentless battle. They wore their exhaustion like cloaks around their shoulders. Maj. Vox stepped forward and called to the nearest group.

    ‘Where’s your commanding officer?’

    The men didn’t look up, they simply kept their eyes focussed on the thin broth bubbling in their helmets. Vox puffed himself up and strode over to them.​

    ‘I asked you a question trooper.’​

    One of the men looked up slowly and stared at Vox as if he wasn’t really seeing him. He jerked his head in the direction of the AT-TE at the centre of the formation and Vox stormed off to look for the commanding officer. Jesse and Kix came up behind me and surveyed the camp. Jesse swore under his breath.​

    ‘This is disgusting, these men should have been rotated off-world months ago,’ he said.​
    ‘Don’t the Jedi know even clones need rest?’ Ever since Umbara Jesse’s had a deep mistrust for the Jedi, except for General Skywalker of course. Can’t say I blame him. That campaign was hell from beginning to end, but it’s starting to look like we had it easy compared to the men of the 102nd. I stepped up the nearest ring of soldiers and removed my helmet.​

    ‘Mind if I join you?’​

    I squatted down and looked around the circle at the faces, or rather at the single face we all share. The same and different all at once. It’s not just the physical differences that set clones apart from one another. Sure, some of us like to wear our hair a certain way or tattoo our faces to make us unique but there are other ways of telling us apart. Our experiences shape us in ways even we don’t understand, and I can tell my brothers apart simply by the inflection of their voice or the slump of their shoulders. Gazing around the circle I saw a familiar face.​

    ‘Hey, it’s Greaser isn’t it?’​

    The clone lifted his eyes from his meal and looked at me.​

    ‘It’s Fives. You remember, we went through basic training together. You were in Bravo squad, right?.’​

    ‘Bravo squad?’​

    ‘Yeah, on Kamino.’​

    Greaser furrowed his brow and winced, as though the effort of thinking back that far was physically painful. ‘Fives… Domino squad. What was that thing we used to say to you?’​

    ‘Time to watch the dominoes fall,’ I said with a chuckle.​

    The shadow of a smile twitched at the corner of Greaser’s mouth. His eyes focused on me and took in my uniform and equipment. ‘They made you an ARC trooper. Never thought you would even make in through basic.’​

    It feels like a lifetime ago now that Echo and I, annoyed with the poor performance and bickering in our cadet squad, requested a transfer to Bravo squad. Looking at Greaser now, I’m glad General Shaak Ti refused. She might have saved us from this hellhole. I suppose that doesn’t matter to the other members of my squad though. Cutup, Droidbait and Hevy were all killed on our first mission, and Echo… I don’t want to talk about what happened to Echo. Life as a clone is brief. All we are is meat in the grinder, with the Republic Senate and the Jedi Council turning the handle and not giving a damn how many of us die in their stupid war. I asked General Skywalker what the war was all about once and he just looked at me with sad eyes and said he didn’t know anymore.​

    ‘Well, well, well, look at this boys, if it ain’t the glorious 501st legion come to save us.’
    I looked around to see a group of 102nd troopers gathered around a platoon of replacements. Like the rest of the hard-bitten armoured company they looked tough and battle-worn, making the young troopers look even younger. The trooper in the lead, a corporal, ran a finger down the breastplate of a replacement.​

    ‘Look at that. Brand spanking new armour. Shinie as anything.’​

    I turned away. Mocking the new recruits and calling them “shinies” is part of life in the army. I didn’t feel sorry for the replacements. To earn the respect of the more experienced troopers they would have to prove themselves worthy the only way we know how: in combat. Once their armour gets scuffed up and they’ve had blaster bolts whizz over their heads a few times and taken out some clankers they’ll simply merge into the battalion. Then when the next batch of replacements appears they’ll mock them in turn. That’s just how things work. But the 102nd clones weren’t satisfied with making a few jokes at the replacements expense.​

    One of them, I found out later his name was Hotshot, knocked a 501st clone called Pol into the mud face first. ‘Now you look like you belong on Infernon. Relax shinie, I’m just trying to make you feel at home,’ he joked, looking down at the stunned replacement. Pol leapt to his feet, seething with rage. He got right up close to Hotshot and told him to just try that again. The rest of Pol’s platoon closed ranks behind him and for a moment it seemed like the first battle of the day was going to be between the 102nd and the 501st.​

    I was about to get up and warn them all to cool down when an officer appeared out of one of the AT-TE’s and shoved his way into the middle of the crowd. ‘What the hell is going on here?’​

    ‘Just a minor disagreement captain. We were trying to scruff up the shinie’s armour so they won’t be such a target for snipers,’ said Hotshot, smirking at Pol as if daring him to contradict him. Pol had no choice but to agree, unless he wanted to be known as a grass. He hung his head and nodded.​

    ‘Just a disagreement sir.’​

    The group broke up. The 501st troopers made themselves busy unloading supplies and ammunition crates from the juggernaut while the 102nd men huddled back into their groups, throwing looks of contempt over their shoulders at the shinies. The officer headed towards my group. I felt the men in the circle straighten slightly, as though being in the man’s presence lifted some of the fatigue from their shoulders. The man crouched down, sniffed at one of the steaming helmets and recoiled.​

    ‘You aren’t going to eat that are you Greaser? Haven’t I warned you about the risks of taking army rations internally?’ Greaser and the rest of the circle chuckled. The captain turned to look at me, Jesse and Kix. ‘Welcome to our war lads, it’s not much but we’ve done the best we can with it.’​

    He introduced himself as Anchor, commander of F-COY. ‘Hotshot was a bit rough with your shinies but he was right. Militia snipers like to pick off replacements. If you want my advice you’ll get them to roll around in the mud and dirty up their armour a bit, that should make them less of a target.


    Kix

    Infernon Campaign Battlelog [Personal]: CT- 6116 (SGT, CM, 501st).

    Day 3

    Well, I spent last night doing something I’d never have imagined in my wildest dreams – or worst nightmares. After my trip to the morgue yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking about all those bodies, so I went down and helped the stokers incinerate them -- well, some of them, at least. I wasn't sure about it at first; but once I got started, it took over me, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I don’t think I could ever tell anyone this, but after three or four hours looking at the faces of dead brothers—or what was left of their faces—I felt like they were looking back at me. It was almost as if they were trying to speak to me, and I couldn’t leave them – not until I’d shown them the final act of respect. These men weren’t going to get burials, but I’d be damned if I was going to let them rot away down here before they ever made it to the furnaces. Burned up like the trash. That’s not a much better end. But I felt like I owed them something. I owed them something more than my sympathy. It made me think about a poem Echo showed me once a long time ago.

    “We are the dead. Short days ago,
    we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
    Now we lay in foreign fields.
    Take up our battle with the foe.
    To you, from failing arms we throw
    the torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If you lose faith with us who die,
    We shall not rest, though flowers grow
    in foreign fields.”*

    I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t let their deaths be meaningless. I would continue the battle, if it meant honoring their sacrifice. I don’t know – maybe it was the heat and the stench and the constant haze of ash in the air, the monotonous work of moving bodies into the furnaces, the single-mindedness of the stokers, but I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I could have gone on forever down there, like everything else was just fading away. There was nothing to do but tend to the dead.

    It was Jesse who finally showed up to pull me out of there. It was nearly 0600, and the detachment was forming up to move out. No one knew where I was. I hadn’t told anyone. Good thing it was Jesse who’d gone looking for me. Major Vox probably would have had my ass if he knew what I’d been doing. Anyone else would have thought I was nuts, but Jesse understands. We’ve served together a long time, and we watch out for each other. Those kinds of bonds are the only way to stay grounded in this war.

    He told me we were heading to the FEBA.** We’ve been assigned to augment the 102 Armor. Needless to say, I was all in by the time we were fully loaded and ready to move out. I got lucky and was able to catch some sleep in the back of the transport. We got there in the evening, and let me say . . . I felt like I’d stepped right back into the morgue. These were living, breathing men who looked and acted as if they’d died a long time ago. They hardly looked human anymore, and they sure as hell didn’t behave like any clone trooper I’d ever met before. They were cooking food in the helmets of their fallen brothers, and I’d been one step away from knocking the damned things right out of their hands. But I figured that wouldn’t be starting off on the best foot, so I just hung back and tried to take in everything. Believe me, there was a lot to see. I don’t know how any commanding officer could let discipline deteriorate to that point.

    Some of the 102d guys started giving some of our Shinies a hard time, and things were looking like they might turn ugly, but then their captain came out. I was glad to see that his troops seemed to have some respect for him. They didn’t have any for Major Vox or the rest of us.

    But we’re going to have to work with these guys one way or another. I made an oath with myself last night: I won’t lose faith with my dead brothers. That’s even more important now, because these guys here in the 102d . . . I think it’s been a long time since they’ve had faith. I could never lose that bond with my brothers. The day I do lose it will be the day I’m waiting for my turn in the incinerator.


    *This is taken from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Colonel John McCrae, a physician with the Canadian Royal Army in WWI. I’m adopted it for SW use, because it’s such a touching poem.**FEBA is Forward Edge of Battle Action​