“Now,” Durge said, “where are your pet clones?”
“Getting the drop on you,” replied Alpha-17.
Durge had only seconds of warning before a bdow sounded and Alpha’s shot pierced straight through his eye and out the back of his helm. The shot should have killed him, but he merely stumbled back with a choking noise. Durge was about as tall as a CC and wore heavy metal armor so comprehensively that Alpha suspected he might be some kind of high class kill-droid. The spray of oddly watery pink blood supported the theory that Durge might be organic, but Alpha frowned when the bounty hunter merely laughed with an angry edge to his voice, “For that, I’m going to rip off your head and carbon flush down your throat.”
General Glaive swung a fist that hit the hunter’s chin with Force enhanced strength. “You’re tough and nasty, I’ll give you that,” Glaive retorted, booting the hunter in the stomach with a metal clang, “But so am I.”
Alpha ignored the theatrics-- his own Jetii was slopped in the corpse-filled mud, struggling under his smothering robe trying to get back to his feet, not dead. Instead of risking friendly fire to get a hit in, Alpha-17 plucked Kenobi up, lifting the small man out of the sucking mud completely. Kenobi hung from his careful grip like a lothkitten, his limbs slow and uncertain for a long moment as he caught his breath.
“You alright?” Alpha-17 asked, tipping him onto his feet. Kenobi’s tiny feet sunk into the mud and he struggled more than he had previously to muscle his way through the thick slurry. Alpha let the Jetii take hold of his leg armor to steady himself, hovering one hand over the curve of Kenobi’s mud-caked skull in case of a stray shot.
There was a pause as his Jetii wheezed.
“No,” Kenobi said eventually, voice tight, “I think he cracked my skull.”
Probably-- Alpha-17 could recognize the careful, stiff way that the Jedi moved.
“You should be dead,” Alpha commented, punctuated with a taptap to the brow of his own bucket, “you’re wearing a helmet next time.”
“Just help me find Anakin,” Kenobi coughed.
It took only moments before the entire mission was certifiably karked. Super battle droids began marching into the swamp pillowed by a choking gas that spelled nothing but trouble. General Glaive made no progress on the bounty hunter--the bastard only mocked them with every breath. Thankfully, Kenobi and Skywalker were performing well enough despite head injury and inexperience respectively.
A stray shot from a super battle droid punched through the chest of one of his standards and Alpha-17 spat, “We should fall back, General. We've lost the element of surprise, and we have no intel on this new weapon.”
“I agree!” Commander Skywalker cried, “Master, we should warn the Naboo, maybe evacuate Theed!”
“Don’t let your emotions rule your mind,” Kenobi responded solemnly, his sabers moving to deflect with ease despite how carefully he held his neck. Another one of Alpha’s vode stumbled, knocked back by a shot clean through his skull because the dikut stood up in the middle of a firefight, “this ‘Durge’ mentioned hostages. Take 17 and find them.”
Alpha-17 struggled to swallow down his frustration as he fired another shot, taking out another super battle droid, “Dividing our forces is a tactical error. The hostages are acceptable losses.”
“Not to me. You will rescue them. That's an order.” Kenobi snapped before leaping straight into the fray.
For the nth time in Alpha’s life, he swallowed his objections and responded simply, “Visk.”
The explosion flung Alpha-17 off his feet and tumbled him, but it didn’t even momentarily daze him. But he hadn’t missed the heavy, metallic footsteps of Durge. So Alpha let himself sway, let himself make noises of pain, did nothing to steady the frantic pounding of his heart.
“You ruined my mission-” Durge snarled, swiping a metal fist through the air. Alpha shoved back out of the way, barely dodging, and the bounty hunter’s voice broke off in shock.
Alpha hadn’t had a long time to observe Durge. He was a completely new, unknown element discovered scant hours ago. In that time, Alpha could already tell that the bounty hunter was overconfident to the point of practically begging to die. His footsteps had not been heavy because of his cumbersome armor; hed not been bothering to conceal his presence. Durge was just as fast if not faster than Alpha judging by everything he’d observed so far. But he’d taken a swipe at Alpha completely unprepared for any meaningful opposition and was too late to stop Alpha from snatching his wrist. Even caught flat footed, Durge didn’t lock down anywhere near hard enough to fight Alpha dragging him to the ground. Obviously, he was under the impression he would still be able to win if an imposing man like Alpha got a good grip on him.
Even a novice warrior knew that taller beings had higher centers of gravity and were, therefore, easier to trip. Jango had made sure every single one of the Alpha series had been trained extensively in wrestling and CQC to make up for the obvious handicap from the day they were old enough to walk. The ARC clamped hard on him, grimly satisfied. For all that Durge boasted that Jetii were easy targets, the man was falling into the exact same pitfalls that Force users were prone to. It wasn’t often that any ARC enjoyed the convenience of being underestimated.
Durge’s upper body swiveled to catch his fall with a hand with spineless flexibility. Alpha’s leg was too long, so he settled for kneeing him full strength in the head. The metal of Durge’s helmet tolled like a bell and caved in against the starship plating of Alpha’s knee. Durge blurted a startled noise of pain. Alpha finished dragging him to the ground and pounced to sit on him, locking legs around his torso, pinning the metal man with his greater weight and surface area.
The bounty hunter was no species Alpha had even heard of. Normally Alpha-17 could sense another being’s heartbeat in his teeth when he bit, in his fingers when he grabbed, could hear the thud in his ears the same way he could sense the draw of lungs from those around him. Instead, all Alpha could sense was an odd creaking vibration in the bounty hunter’s body. Without lungs, without a heart, Durge met each grapple with tireless energy, writhing below him with unnatural flexibility and speed, all of which was already intensely frustrating for Alpha, who punched the dirt where Durge’s head had been hard enough to leave a small crater and make his knuckles creak.
When Durge somehow made himself smaller within his armor, Alpha made an educated guess and snagged him by the head to keep the hunter where he wanted him. Once Durge got over his surprise when he couldn’t out-strength Alpha, and Alpha’s sucker punches were endured, Durge gave up on escaping and renewed his blows.
Endless though his stamina seemed to be, Alpha only grunted when his hits landed. The blows would have turned any normal being to paste and wrecked most machinery but didn’t come close to even bending Alpha’s bones. He would be horrifically bruised, but he could endure until the fight was over. Ideally, sooner rather than later. Perhaps the bounty hunter’s cockiness wasn’t as foolish as Alpha thought if he could take that many newtons of force so many times in a row to his skull.
Durge also had seemingly endless tricks up his sleeve, but none were meant to slay an ARC. When a vibroblade slashed out from under a gauntlet, thanks to his body glove and the toughness of his skin, Alpha’s neck was carved a deep gouge but his jugular was nowhere near endangered. In response the vibroblade was snapped off with a twist of 17’s fingers and flung into Durge’s ropy neck. Durge didn’t seem to care-- somehow his body rejected the blade, forcing it out of his flesh hard enough for the metal to ping off of Alpha’s chestplate before spinning into the landscape. Completely unharmed, Durge merely switched on what looked like a flamethrower from the same gauntlet. The hunter swung the new guttering flame and the jagged end of the vibroblade toward Alpha’s side.
Alpha ignored the metal fist and vibro-splinter that slammed into his ribs, ignored the rapidly growing heat of his kit. He reached around and caught Durge by his elbow and pulled.
Alpha-17 had been pulling living creatures apart since he was a cadet. There were tiny seams in a being’s body, folds and joinery that popped and strained and stretched when pulled with enough persistent force. Removing the bounty hunter’s arm felt nothing like it normally would. He felt no bones disconnecting on their hinges, not even the wet tear of flesh. Just muscle and sinew stretching and snapping. Durge wailed in pain and fury as his arm snapped apart strand by oddly colorful tubelike strand, spraying both of them with that pink fluid. Alpha flung the smoking appendage away then gasped when Durge twisted, pointed the stump of his arm like the barrel of a blaster, and shot fibers of his own body at Alpha’s exposed underarm, strands punching through Alpha’s body glove and into his chest. His diaphragm spasmed and locked.
“You’ll have to do better, clone -”
Skywalker was still there, though. A lightsaber sliced through the worming strands, freeing Alpha from the invasive assault. Seconds later, just as Durge was rolling away from Alpha-17 to escape, Skywalker slammed the hunter’s own electric bolas straight into his faceplate like clubs. Durge roared as the shocks pulsed through him. Alpha barely felt the shocks in his own body.
“Get up, Alpha!” Skywalker ordered, slicing off the bounty hunter’s second, clawing arm, flinging the armored appendage away with a tumultuous clanging.
Alpha sat back on the bounty hunter’s chest and locked his legs around his target. The shock duration on the bolas was short, but just long enough to delay Durge growing back his limbs more than halfway, long enough for Alpha to rear back and begin slamming his own metal fist into the bounty hunter’s helmet again. His frenzied hit made Durge’s helmet ring again like a gong, deepening the dents already there, pressing it flatter and giving the persistent regeneration of his body less and less space to regrow.
Durge shrieked and flailed, his limbs growing in distorted bulges that broke against Alpha like waves trying to fling him off. But Skywalker cut through the roiling lengths of those odd limbs before they punched much into Alpha’s body so the pressure remained low, something Alpha could ignore, something Alpha-17 could ride out and muscle against. Still the writhing monstrosity howled obscenities as he slammed over and over into him. Alpha’s fist connected again with a ring of metal and a deeper snap-pop of Alpha’s bones giving under the demand his own strength. Even as Durge’s helmet began to press more and more flat, the waves of flesh and howls didn’t stop.
Durge was trying to wrap around him, too, trying to smother Alpha in the folds of his flesh. Skywalker was slicing through the creature’s limbs with single minded intensity, his eyes closed, panting open mouthed, sweat rolling down his face. He wasn’t succeeding entirely-- those ropelike limbs had already enveloped Alpha’s lower body, but Skywalker was ensuring he still had mobility in his arms. But the constriction of his bodily fibers was merely annoying. Durge’s armor was long gone, dead limbs laying in discarded shells on the muddy dirt, his jetpack already collateral damage from Skywalker’s frenzied slices. The flesh of Durge’s hacked away limbs reached sluggishly out for their core, but Durge was too distracted trying to pummel Alpha to collect them.
For once since the battle had started, Durge didn’t have a single cute thing to say.
“Aauuckh!” Durge gurgled, jerking and spasming.
“Run out already, you bastard!” Commander Skywalker panted, “You can’t do this forever!”
Alpha’s breaths came in short huffs of exertion as he reared back for an elbow drop to spare his fingers. Then he paused. Apparently, Durge decided that he was finished trying to foolishly grapple an ARC. The body of the being unwound suddenly from around Alpha’s legs and lower body, and he started pushing at him, squirming away instead of trying to envelop him, fast as quicksilver. A17 wasn’t interested in letting him go, though, and fought through the rippling bands of muscle, clawing through to get a thumb into an eye socket for a better grip, hooking through the shattered visor to dig in-
Once the bounty hunter was done screaming, he spoke.
“You can’t kill me,” Durge gurgled, his body nothing sinew and winding flesh, actively trying to heal around Alpha’s digging fingers, “I’ve burned for sixty years straight. Nothing you can do can kill me.”
Alpha adjusted his hold on the blaster in his free hand, straining against the tides of flesh trying to push him away even as Skywalker slashed through those roiling bands desperately.
“Then it sounds like I need to make you want to die,” Alpha replied evenly.
Durge’s beady, reptilian eye met Alpha’s gaze properly for the first time through the crushed faceplate.
The Count of Serenno stopped mid-sip. Then he finished the draught and set his wine glass down on his desk with a nearly inaudible clink.
“I beg your pardon?” Yan queried, his undivided attention trained on the figure projected from his holocom.
His assassin’s image was scowling, looking utterly wretched with mud and filth. Her face was a mottled mess of bruises dark enough to show through the low resolution of the long distance com.
[I said,] Ventress growled, [Durge is dead.]
Dooku scoffed, “Are you sure about that? He’s Gen’dai, they’re indestructible.”
Ventress bared her teeth at him. [Are they? Are they impervious to being beheaded and used as a screeching blunt weapon against Sith assassins? Are they impervious to being cut into pieces then tossed into active starship exhaust ports piece by piece like campfire fuel?]
It took him a moment to breathe past the spasm of fury in his breast.
“Why,” Dooku thundered, “did you allow that to happen?”
[I was busy dueling Kenobi and some padawan girl.]
He looked down at her image disdainfully. “And Kenobi’s status?”
[I left him alive, as requested. Barely.] Ventress replied petulantly.
With the gasses in the air he would be handicapped adequately enough for the likes of Ventress to best him, Dooku supposed. “Then you have not completely disappointed me. We shall see if Durge scrapes himself back together. If he is truly dead, then your failure on his mission is staggering and I will be forced to reconsider your eligibility as a Sith assassin.”
Ventress jolted as if struck. [I was under the kriffing impression that the sith damned Gen’dai could handle a single clone and one padawan!]
“Which padawan? Skywalker?” Dooku demanded. Perhaps Sidious’s obsession with that Skywalker child was not as foolish as Dooku thought if he was powerful enough to take down a Gen’dai such as Durge.
Ventress paused for a moment. “... Yes, Skywalker. Though it was the clone that was swinging Durge’s head around like a club.”
Yes, Dooku would have to watch Sidious’s whelp much closer than he thought. He sighed through his nose. “Return at once,” he commanded, “and we shall reevaluate your future.”
Kenobi made soft little grunting noises as he roused, his injured leg twitching with discomfort under the thin sheet of his toy-sized medbay cot. Alpha-17 loomed over him, arms crossed, waiting. His head lolled to face Alpha with uncanny accuracy before he was even fully conscious. Eventually the man’s pale eyes cracked open. He squinted.
“Alpha…?” Kenobi croaked.
“Su cuy'gar,” Alpha-17 rumbled.
Kenobi blinked at him. Alpha waited.
“... Hello to you too,” Kenobi replied wryly, the fuzz of sleep draining away rapidly as he woke.
That was enough confirmation for Alpha; their Jetii understood Mando’a. Cody was a fool for believing otherwise. Alpha wasn’t about to tell the idiot, though-- Kote would have to figure that one out on his own.
“Alpha, what-?” the redhead slurred.
“The mission was completed successfully. Far more casualties than expected,” Alpha began, “but the situation was salvaged as well as it could have been.”
“Commander Skywalker is fine. General Glaive is dead, and his padawan has been recalled to Coruscant.”
Kenobi’s gleaming eyes were big and soulful with sorrow. Alpha knew the man was overwhelmed and struggling to regain his bearings, slopping through the remains of unconsciousness as he had struggled to resurface from the decay-filled mud of Naboo. Alpha pressed on anyway, “The sith assassin that got you escaped, but the bounty hunter she had with her is dead.” No need to tell Kenobi how, exactly, the hunter had been neutralized or the part his padawan played in the process.
Kenobi frowned minutely. “Well. I suppose that will work. Thank you for letting me know, A-17.”
The Jetii’s voice was slow and careful, still hoarse from medbay and sleep. He knew something was off. It didn’t take a Jedi to sense that. Alpha wasn’t exactly being subtle.
“The poison did a number on your lungs and epidermis. You’ve been in bacta for a week,” Alpha advised him. Kenobi simply looked tired as Alpha spoke. “In light of this, I’ve ordered you a set of armor-”
The last vestiges of Kenobi’s sleep-fog evaporated and he went on alert, brows drawing in, “That is unnecessary, A-”
“Entirely necessary,” Alpha boomed. As big as his lung capacity was, it took no effort at all to completely and wholly overwhelm a natborn’s voice without actually shouting. Kenobi fell into startled, faintly alarmed silence but the stubborn tilt of his brow only deepened. Alpha continued after letting the silence linger a moment, long enough to ensure Kenobi was actually listening. “Armor is non negotiable. You, Skywalker, Glaive, and Xiss were wholly compromised by the poison gas. None of the men were thanks to their armor. There will not be a repeat of this.”
General Kenobi watched him quietly for a moment. Then, “A-17, I appreciate and understand your point but armor will only slow me down and hamper my ability to fight. Moreover, it would be inappropriate-”
Alpha barked a mean laugh. “Frankly, sir, I don’t care about what's appropriate. I care about not losing Generals because you lot are indispensable to the war effort. I care that my standards aren’t left with their deeces out when their best line of defense is wheezing on the ground from a preventable head injury. I care that we aren’t left cleaning up after you.”
“... Do we have a problem we need to be discussing, A-17?” Kenobi asked, voice hard and crisply formal.
Alpha smiled full of teeth that were engineered sharp. “Not at all, sir. I’ve already resolved the issue. Once you are out of medbay, you and I will meet in the salles to determine what modifications your armor will need to work optimally for you. Then it will be ordered, you will wear it, and we won’t have any problems.”
The redhead closed his pale eyes and sighed, long and slow. “A-17, the political ramifications of a Jedi in full battle dress are far more impactful than I suspect you realize.
Alpha-17 studied his Jedi for a long moment, during which Kenobi only regarded him tiredly. Alpha crouched in lieu of even trying to sit on any of the nearby seating options-- at best he could fit part of an asscheek on one of the nurses stools, and he had learned long ago that most fixtures were incapable of holding his weight. Instead of breaking the furniture, Alpha rested his elbows on his thighs and met Kenobi’s gaze evenly.
“Tell me,” Alpha bid him.
His Jedi breathed in before donning a diplomat's polite friendliness, “During the last Sith war, Jedi served as soldiers in the Army of Light. We were, as you said, instrumental to the war effort. The people of the Republic did not forget that when the war was won. In order to not be chased off by our terrified allies, the Jedi signed our loyalty to the Senate so they, and therefore the people, could keep us in check.”
“Bad move,” Alpha observed. Obi-Wan merely smiled humorlessly.
“... and one of the many laws to keep the Republic calm was to officially ban Jedi from ever taking military roles.”
Alpha blinked slowly, eyebrows raising. Kenobi’s smile widened but remained utterly humorless in its false cheer.
“Technically, it's still illegal for Jedi to serve in the military. We were brevetted rank when we were conscripted. So we could perform military duties without, actually, having any authority. To keep us from getting any ideas.”
Alpha pinched his brow and swore, the low simmer of hatred in his gut boiling higher than normal. “Then Yularen only listens to you because-?”
“Because we’re all pretending. Yes. It’s all very polite.”
Alpha massaged his temple, breathing evenly to control his impotent rage.
“... So. Wearing armor would draw a lot of unpleasant attention,” Kenobi concluded gently.
Alpha scoffed, “You sure about that? Sounds like the Republic needs a reality check.”
At that, his Jetii laughed genuinely, a ha-ha of laughter with a broad smile that crinkled around his eyes. The mirth faded quickly as his amusement jerked his still healing body, the redhead falling silent with a whimper. Alpha tsked. Kenobi shot him with a petulant moue.
“No, A-17. I think I would prefer for now to avoid having the Republic more afraid of us than they already are,” Kenobi murmured softly.
Alpha regarded him for a moment. Then he nodded seriously, pausing halfway to his feet. Kenobi didn’t flinch away when Alpha reached for him, seeming merely confused until Alpha tapped a knuckle under Kenobi’s tiny furred chin. The touch was gentle, mindful of Kenobi’s injuries, and full of amused fondness that 17 hadn’t expected to feel when he’d started the day. Kenobi’s pale skin flushed.
“We’ll just have to get you armor that can fit underneath your robes for now.”
Kenobi squawked. Alpha offered him a long smirk as he turned to leave, already planning on what resources to tap so he could fact check Kenobi’s words.
“And you’re still wearing a helmet.”
“A-17, don’t you dare-”