Sometimes the Republic did things that Cody considered to be unintentionally hilarious. Like putting Skywalker and Senator Amidala together for any operation where things were supposed to be quiet. Or that time they decided that what the troops really needed for morale was a performance of an old, boring Yinchorri play. Half the troops had been asleep by the end of it, the other half playing cards under their seats.
Or like now.
Someone had declared that what this war needed was, above anything else, better P.R.
So they sent a photographer, to be attached to the 212th until further notice. That wasn’t really the funny part, even though it kind of was, all on its own.
What Cody found hysterical was that the photographer took a lot of pictures of General Kenobi. Pretty much solely, in fact.
There were a few notable ones, all of which made him look like some lost Jedi hero from the old ages, the sun shining behind his copper hair, his lightsaber gleaming. There was one, Cody’s personal favorite, where Obi-Wan was pictured with his hand up, using the Force to shield a full camp of civilian children from an incoming mortar. The children looked at him with gleaming, hero-worshipping eyes.
General Kenobi hated it.
Cody had never been sure if such an adjective could even be ascribed to a Jedi, but apparently it could. Obi-Wan’s attitude towards the photographer was as close to distaste as Cody had ever seen from him, even during battles. His Coruscanti accent and politeness absolutely skyrocketed every time they had to interact.
Cody knew this was because General Kenobi hated attention, but it was also mostly because he felt the men did most of the work— work Obi-Wan shouldn’t be credited for.
So he wasn’t surprised one day when the General dragged the photographer over to him, a few days into a very long and tiring occupation on Noult. Mostly, though, it was just boring. Which is why Cody would admit to being more than a little curious as to what was about to happen.
The senate’s crack photographer was a Bothan woman, shorter than the clones but much stockier, and of course hairier. She was very enamored with the General, her fur rippling, pleased, every time he so much as spoke to her. Cody was unsure if it was the Jedi thing or just the General being himself. Her name was Betta Kolvar, and according to her background records— which of course Cody had checked out— she was well-respected but fairly new to her job.
“Hello, Commander,” said Obi-Wan, pointedly. “I hope I’m not interrupting.” Considering Cody had been playing a game on his HUD, he was pretty sure Obi-Wan knew this was a rhetorical question.
“Of course not, General. Ma’am.” Cody nodded to Kolvar. She preferred to be called by the female honorific, a Bothan tradition that was difficult for the Kaminoan-raised brothers to remember.
“I was unsure if you’ve met,” Obi-Wan said. “Commander Cody, this is Betta Kolvar.” Cody took off his bucket before he shook her furry hand, somewhat sensing Obi-Wan’s purpose in this.
“Nice to meet you,” Cody said.
“You as well,” Kolvar said.
“I was hoping, while we had a little free time, to introduce you to some of the men,” Obi-Wan said. “That way, you can be sure that you’re getting a full spread of them in your pictures— it would be embarrassing to have a hundred pictures of Cody here but none of Trapper, for example.”
Or just take any photographs of the men, at all, was implied, extremely politely.
“Oh, of course!” Kolvar said, studying Cody’s face halfheartedly. “That’s a good idea.”
“I thought so,” Obi-Wan said. “Care to walk with us, Commander?”
“Certainly, General,” Cody said. He wasn’t about to miss out on the best entertainment of the day.
By the time they got to twenty or so brothers, Kolvar was looking more than a little overwhelmed. Cody felt bad for her. Obi-Wan was merciless.
They were in the command tent, introducing Kolvar to an amused Wooley and Siege. Boil poked his head in. “Updated supply list, sir,” he said, holding out a datapad towards General Kenobi.
“And what’s your name?” Kolvar asked, slightly hysterical.
Obi-Wan looked affronted. They’d run into Waxer and Boil outside, where the two of them had been trying to coax one of the (hideously ugly) local creatures out with a spare bit of ration.
The clones never really got offended when civilians got them mixed up. Not everyone was a Jedi, most of which could meet a brother once and remember their name for life, even when their faces were covered by helmets.
But this was clearly not an excuse in Obi-Wan’s book. He drew himself up indignantly.
But Boil had a very worrying smile on his face. “I’m Trooper… Liob, ma’am!” he said. “Nice to meet you, ma’am!”
“Nice to meet you, trooper,” Kolvar asked, slightly taken-aback by Boil’s exuberance.
“Thank you, Liob,” Cody said, in a voice that promised vengeance. “You’re dismissed.”
Even Boil quailed under that look. He saluted and quickly escaped.
When Cody looked over at General Kenobi, he had a hand over his mouth, the picture of thoughtfulness. That di’kut was hiding a smile.
Of course that was not the end of Trooper Liob. Boil gained some measure of fame in the barracks for his misadventures. Cody once walked in on Waxer telling a shiny about Liob’s exploits in droid killing, whereupon Liob had apparently bitten a clanker clean in half.
But the real problem didn’t start until a planet or so later, when Kolvar actually started to take pictures of the men. It was still mostly of the Jedi, or of civilians, or once of a really important cultural monument that got shelled to all hell by the Seppies. But sometimes it was of the men too.
Cody wandered into the mess, fixated on the caf dispenser. He poured himself a cup and slowly registered what he’d seen on the way in— namely, Boil, occupied with talking to the photographer. When Cody glanced back, Boil looked extremely eager to help with whatever they had their heads bent over.
Cody walked over there double-time.
When he got there, Boil was nodding and smiling brightly. Cody winced. Whatever it was, he was too late.
“Of course I’m sure, sir— uh, ma’am. Clear as day. That’s Liob,” Boil said. Cody managed to get a good look at whatever they were hunched over.
It was a picture from their latest battle. It was actually a little impressive; a group of clones huddled behind a broken wall, leaning out to shoot from behind cover. Kolvar had managed to get a good most of them in profile, leaning out, looking noble and like a good pack of warriors.
Cody had known she was out there— had almost tripped over her— but he hadn’t seen her take this one.
Kolvar zoomed in on a face. It was genuinely impossible to tell what brother it was. His face was turned a quarter more to the right than the rest of his squad, his armor covered by the clone in front of him. All you could really say for certain was that it was a clone and that they wore their hair standard length.
As Cody watched, almost entranced, Kolvar typed the name underneath— Trooper Liob. Then she clicked send. “It’s off to my editor,” she said. “Thank you very much! Boil, right?”
“That’s me,” Boil said.
Somehow, he did not notice Cody looming behind him. This was how Cody knew, for sure, that Cody did not have any Jedi powers. Because Boil would not have survived that glare if he did.
The karking picture got onto the front page of the holonews. With the caption included.
After that it was pretty much impossible to get rid of Liob, especially after he got his own helmet.
There was always some kind of spare gear laying around, and the 212th had gotten their hands on a blank helmet. They had immediately painted it, with a rather interesting design— orange polka-dots, about the size of thumb-prints and scattered liberally around the helmet.
“It’s so ugly,” Cody said, when confronted with a group of his eager-faced troopers. He shouldn’t have been encouraging them, really, but their faces were just so hopeful. He turned the bucket around in his hands. “Why did you decorate it like this?”
“We decided Liob is really whimsical,” said a trooper named Leaffall. “And we didn’t want him to get confused with any other clones.”
“Yes, because that’s the problem with Liob,” Cody said.
“Maybe we should give him a mustache on the outside of the helmet,” Boil said thoughtfully. “He seems like that kind of guy.”
“I hate you all so much,” Cody said.
“You love us,” Waxer said, and thrust the helmet out of Cody’s hand and onto Boil’s head. “Wow, there you are, vod!” he said. “We’ve been looking for you, Liob.”
“Looking hot, Liob,” said Gearshift.
“Thank you, thank you,” Boil said. “I’m here all day.”
“No you are not,” Cody said.
“Oh, come on, don’t be mean to Liob—” Soup was saying, when Kolvar walked in.
Cody, terminally embarrassed, snapped to attention. “Ma’am!” he said. His men followed suit pitiably late.
Kolvar waved a hand. “Oh, um, stand down,” she said. “No need for formality.”
“Ma’am,” Cody agreed, and relaxed only infinitesimally.
“Hello again, Cody, Liob, Waxer… um, Soup? I’m sorry. I don’t remember everyone’s names,” Kolvar said. “I was talking to Master Kenobi, to see if he wanted to do any staged shots while we had some downtime.”
A susurrus of suppressed snickers made its way through the ranks, sounding kind of like everyone had to cough all at once.
“He said he was very busy with his Jedi rites, but he thought that you men might be amenable to me taking some pictures of you during your off-hours?” Kolvar showed them her holocam. “Would that be all right?”
“I suppose so,” Cody said, perplexed. “I’m not sure anyone would want to see pictures of us playing sabacc or sparring, though, miss.”
“You’d be surprised,” Kolvar said. “My ratings have gone way up as of late. The galaxy likes to see pictures of the troops.”
“All right, then, as you wish,” Cody said. He clapped Boil on the shoulder. “Be good to her, men— I’m off to take ration inventory.” Ration inventory being to clones what ancient Jedi rites were to the Jedi; i.e., bantha poodoo. He grinned, a little meanly. “Be good to her, Liob.”
Cody watched Boil’s shoulders tense as he realized he was going to have to play Liob for the entirety of the time Kolvar was hanging about the tent, until he could get somewhere and put his real bucket back on.
Cody saluted, and ducked out of the tent, whistling.
Cody took a look through the next batch of Kolvar’s photographs when they were released, out of more morbid curiosity than anything.
The ratio of pictures of Obi-Wan to everyone else had decreased a little, but maybe that was just because Obi-Wan had gotten increasingly good at ducking the camera. But what there was had started to change too.
Less heroic posing and soft light— more of the clones, clapping each other on the back to make sure their vod were all right. More civilians, stone-faced as the troops marched by. Obi-Wan, covered in mud as Cody handed him a cup of caf.
Actually, it was kind of nice. Cody didn't have pictures of any of his brothers, except for a holopic of him and Rex from some shore leave. Cody saved some of them to his personal datapad.
Among the real members of the 212th, there ended up being some pictures of Liob, because the universe hated Cody.
At the moment, Waxer and Boil were trying to convince him that Boil had lost his armor and needed a full replacement.
“It fell… off a cliff,” Cody repeated. “All of your armor fell off a cliff.”
“Yessir,” Boil said.
“How did your armor get to this cliff without you inside it?”
Boil considered this. “The Force?”
“Waxer. Boil,” Cody said.
“Yessir,” they said.
“Do you think I’m an idiot?”
“We’d never say that, sir!” Boil said, sounding completely affronted.
Cody put his head on the desk. Then, without his meaning to, a laugh slipped out.
“We broke him,” Waxer whispered, loudly.
When Cody put his head back up, he had schooled his face. “If Liob wants armor, you’re going to have to be smarter about it than this,” he said, rejecting the armor request on the datapad. “That kind of big requisition gets noticed. But, perhaps, if you rounded up a couple troopers, who had somehow all lost a pauldron, or a greave, or a utility belt…”
Waxer and Boil lit up. Liob had made a lot of friends among the troopers, who were as incapable of letting go of a joke as Waxer and Boil. They wouldn’t have any trouble building a full set of armor out of various replacement requests.
“Yessir!” Waxer and Boil said, and darted out, then back in, where they remembered to salute this time, then back out again.
Idiots. Cody was working with idiots. He didn’t know what that made him.
Liob’s new armor was hideous, done in the same polka-dotted style as the helmet. But to his credit, Boil was sticking with the joke— he wore it a lot.
They had just come off a gruelling campaign, four weeks in the slushy cold rain and blood. The photographer hadn’t been allowed for any of it but the very end. It was just too dangerous for a civilian, no matter how much she had argued about it. She’d finally quieted down though when she got there, and seen the brothers dying and wounded. Even Obi-Wan had been hurt, and he was still wearing a sling because they were on bacta rationing. Cody was not happy about this.
They were hunched over their caf in the mess hall, their plates long since cleared but they were both too tired to get up. It was marginally warmer in the tent than anywhere else, if just from the troops all taking refuge in there. Kolvar was sitting beside them, flicking through the photos she’d taken that day.
To be honest, Cody didn’t know how she was doing it. Even if she’d taken care not to capture anything too gory, nothing she could have seen out there on the battlefield would be pretty or nice to look at. Cody certainly didn’t want to see any reminders of it. He doubted anything from this mission would sell on the holonews.
Various troopers muttered out hellos as they wandered by their table. Obi-Wan looked up to acknowledge each one, tired as he was.
“Hello, Waxer, Boi—?” Obi-Wan said, and trailed off, seemingly confused.
Cody snapped his head up. Kolvar hadn’t seemed to notice, and Waxer and Boil were already in the mess line, jostling each other.
Cody followed Obi-Wan’s gaze. He was looking across the tent at a group of brothers playing dejarik. More specifically, he was looking at Liob, who was playing with them, and apparently winning. Cody blinked. Looked at Liob. Looked at Waxer and Boil.
Kolvar finally looked up. “Something wrong?” she asked.
“No,” Cody said. “I’ll be right back.”
The troopers on the side of the table facing Cody were lucky enough to see him coming, but the others had to notice him standing there when his shadow loomed over them. “Liob” squeaked.
“I don’t suppose I want to know what’s going on here,” he said.
“You shouldn’t ask questions you already know the answer to, Commander,” Longshot said.
“That was a hypothetical,” Cody said. “Who the kriff is under that helmet?”
Liob hunched his shoulders. “It’s me, sir,” he said sheepishly. “Manacle.”
“Something wrong with your own armor?”
Manacle muttered something.
“Speak,” Cody said ominously, “up.”
“Waxer and Boil said I could borrow him,” he said begrudgingly. “Liob has leave coming up, sir, and there’s a girl I want to see on the starbase tomorrow.”
Cody didn’t know where to start with that one. “Liob is on the roster?” he asked, then, “Wait, leave next week is only for the higher ranks.”
The other clones at the table had decided to be wisely silent on this matter. Manacle slunk down in his chair further. “Yessir,” he said.
Cody rubbed his forehead. “You make sure your duties are getting done if you must go see your girlfriend,” he said. “If they’re not, I will know.”
He stalked back to the table.
“Everything alright, Commander Cody?” Kolvar asked, when Cody sat back down.
“Yes, ma’am,” Cody said. “I was just congratulating Corporal Liob. He got promoted.”
Obi-Wan, Force help him, was very fond of Liob. The news made him smile, even wider when Kolvar expressed delight at Liob’s moving up in the ranks. It was, admittedly, kind of funny.
It almost made it worth it how terrible Cody’s men were, and how kriffing karking cold it was on this planet.
It was one of the very rare times when the 212th and the 501st had leaves that lined up with each other. They were all stationed on Coruscant for the time being, which meant that Cody feared both for the Temple— which had both Generals Skywalker and Kenobi in it at the same time— and for the state of Coruscant's bars. More specifically, their alcohol supplies.
Rex slung an arm around Cody’s shoulders. He was halfway to drunk already, and very huggy. “Cody!” he said.
“Cody!” several of the 501st members, who had been at the bar longer than the 212th had, echoed cheerfully. It was hard to blame them for wanting a break. They worked under Skywalker, after all.
“Rex,” Cody said, and made eye contact with the bartender, who seemed to be regretting all the choices that had led her to this moment. “Ale, please,” he said, and she swept off down the bar.
“Hey, you shouldn’t have to pay!” Rex said as Cody gave the bartender a credit chip. Cody did not like where this was going. “After all, you’re a celebrity!”
“What,” Cody said.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Rex said. “No need to be modest.” With entirely too much glee, he took out a datapad, already connected to the holonet. He handed it over proudly.
Cody took it with the same gingerness that he would use when handling explosive ordinance, and the same readiness to toss it out a window at any moment.
The holonet was open to a news page— a page, as it turned out, which was full of Betta Kolvar’s photographs of the 212th. A lot of them.
“Oh no,” Cody said, and signaled the bartender to keep them coming.
Rex took the liberty of reaching over and swiping through the photos so that Cody could see them all. Pictures of the men at mess, pictures of the battlefield, pictures of Longshot lighting a deathstick with a bit of droid that was on fire. Pictures of the General doing generally heroic things, punching a tank, etc. Pictures of Cody, too unfortunately.
“I like this one,” Rex said, zooming in on a holo where Cody was in mid-leap over a piece of a downed walker, already shooting. Cody gave him a dead-eyed look. “So dashing,” Rex said.
“She actually got these published?” Cody asked, looking through the rest of them on his own. “Kind of violent, no?” There was a picture of some of the troops playing bolo-ball. “Or kind of boring?”
Rex shook his head. “The public loves them.” He reached over and clicked another link, leading to a comments section. Cody read through some of them despite his better judgement.
Kolvar had not been lying when she said people liked pictures of the men. The consensus, against all odds, seemed to be that the clones were a really entertaining group to watch. People were choosing their favorites from among the brothers— arguments, even, about which one was better. There were Cody fans, Waxer fans, Coss and Soup, and, yes, even Liob. A picture of two of the vod high-fiving had made its rounds, and apparently it was being sold as a t-shirt.
“Why?” Cody asked.
“You’re popular,” Rex said, and wiped a pretend tear from his eye. “My brother, the holostar.”
There were comments under some of the holos which were quite flattering if you considered that the clones shared the same anatomy, and comments under some of the holos of General Kenobi that made Cody want to cover his eyes. But the consensus seemed to be— yes. They loved the clones.
Meanwhile, Rex’s fake tears were turning more than a little watery for real as he got progressively drunker, and Cody abandoned the datapad to rub his back, and, later that night, hold his bucket for him while he puked into an alleyway.
Cody got called into the General’s office on the Negotiator as they travelled from Alderaan to a med station— for once, a standard supply run, which is why Cody was so sure something was going to go wrong. He went into Obi-Wan’s office with no small amount of trepidation.
Obi-Wan laughed when he saw him, standing stiffly in the doorway. “Sorry, Cody,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s not serious.” He gestured at a chair, then frowned and leaned over to knock a stack of flimsiwork off of it. “Sit down.”
“It’s not that I’m scared sir,” Cody said. “It’s just that right about now is when Skywalker’s Law kicks in.”
“Skywalker’s Law?” Obi-Wan asked, amused.
“The quickest way for a mission to go sideways is for things to be going well,” Cody said. He sat. “And most especially when a Jedi is around.”
“I wish I could argue with you,” Obi-Wan said, and slid a datapad across the desk. “But this one is about your troopers.” Cody looked at the paperwork. “Specifically, Trooper— sorry, Sergeant— CT6969. Also known as Liob.”
Cody did not fight back his grimace. “Kark,” he said. “What did they do now?” He scrolled through the data. It was from the Senate, a slightly urgent request.
“It seems,” Obi-Wan said, “That somehow our trooper did not get some of the required medical work for field soldiers. I can’t imagine how that happened.”
“Do you think you would notice, sir, if I pushed some of my brothers out the airlock?” Cody said. “I didn’t think they’d actually gone through with putting him in the system.”
“Well, he’s there, and apparently the office of the Supreme Chancellor is quite concerned that he may have missed some mandatory vaccinations,” Obi-Wan said. He took the datapad back and typed in a few things. “As of now, Liob is on leave— far away from any medcenters. I’m afraid the men will have to figure out how to deal with it the next time it pops up.”
Cody put a hand on the bridge of his nose. “I honestly think they like the challenge,” he said. “There may be something actually wrong with them.”
There was a gasp somewhere behind Cody. It was followed by a ‘it’s you!’ which was alarming enough that he put a hand on his blaster before turning around.
Cody had a very recognizable face, after all, and some very dumb brothers. Not to mention that clones were not very well-loved in a lot of parts of the galaxy.
But when he looked, it was a group of teenagers, about six of them of all different species. They all had the same kind of gaunt look as everyone else on this planet— they’d been suffering under a Seperatist blockade for about a month now. But they all looked eager. Excited. That was disturbing in and of itself.
“Uh, do I know you?” Cody asked.
“You’re Cody!” one of the teenage boys said. “We saw you on the holonet!”
Oh no. This was, maybe, worse than the Seppies.
“Nice… to hear that?” Cody tried. A ways away, a group of clones were raising temporary shelters for the locals. One handsign— need backup— would have them descending on Cody before the teenagers even knew what hit them. But this might have been one of the cases where the solution was worse than the problem. He could only imagine the teasing.
“You’re my favorite clone,” one of the girls said, and blushed.
“I like Boil,” another one said. “No offense, Mr. Cody.”
“That’s all right,” Cody said, baffled. Most civilians couldn’t tell a blonde clone apart from a dark-haired one, and they had identified him from his armor painting? He had assumed Rex was mostly kidding about the widespread fans of the clones from Kolvar’s holos— had thought it was a very small subset of the Republic.
“Well, I like General Kenobi,” said a different teenager. “Do you think you could get me an autograph?”
“I don’t think he would appreciate the request,” Cody said. But Cody would. So would General Skywalker. Maybe it would be worth it just for the amount of sputtering from Obi-Wan.
“I can’t believe we got saved by the 212th,” a teenager said. Possibly they had multiplied. “Everyone on the forums is going to be so jealous.”
“We saw the last batch of photographs,” the first boy said. “And you were on a planet like two sectors from here. That was only like a week ago.”
One of the girls— the one who apparently liked Cody best— gasped. “That’s so far! That means you’ve been fighting or travelling, for, like, forever without a break. Aren’t you tired?”
The correct answer for this, according to the trainers on Kamino, and the same geniuses who decided it would be a good idea to document the horrors of war and post them on the holonet for all to see, was: the Grand Army of the Republic never sleeps.
This was true, in that Cody had not slept for two days. “A little,” he said.
This earned him a burst of satisfyingly dismayed and sympathetic noises from the teenagers.
“You should get a break,” one of them said. “That’s horrible.”
“Well, that’s the job—” Cody said uncomfortably, but he was interrupted. Wooley, running with urgency.
“Droids on the south side, sir,” he panted. “Coming in to clean up the survivors. We’re deploying immediately.”
“Kriff,” Cody said. He gestured a hand at the kids. “Get inside and stay there.” Wooley and Cody shot off towards the south end of town without looking to see if they complied, which, retrospectively, was Cody’s first mistake.
Wooley, of course, had not been lying— a line of B1s were gathering outside the temporary gates they’d enacted, weapons charging. General Kenobi got there at about the same time as Cody, frowning gravely.
“We have many injured troopers,” Obi-Wan said. “It’s going to be difficult to defend with just us.”
“Which is, of course, why they decided to do it now,” Cody groused.
“Well,” Obi-Wan said, with a little smile, as he drew his saber, “Nothing for it, I suppose, yes Commander?”
“Yessir,” Cody said, with about as much grim humor.
There was a conference among the droids— none of them wanted to stick their neck out first, for fear it would be instantly removed from the rest of their body. Finally a B1 got pushed out to the front of the crowd and activated its speaker.
“Surrender now, Jedi!” it wailed. “Or be destroyed!”
Obi-Wan ignited his lightsaber; Cody charged his gun.
“Kriff off!” yelled a high-pitched voice, somewhere off to the side and above.
As one, the clones and the droids looked up.
It was the teenagers, standing on a cliff face. Cody hadn’t even known you could get up there— they must have had some kind of local shortcut. Even as he watched, the one who liked Cody the best threw a rock, and it hit the lead droid in the head.
“Yeah, kriff off, clankers!” the boy yelled. He threw another rock. Another droid sparked and went down.
“What in the world,” said Obi-Wan.
“They’re tired!” a teenager said. “And they don’t want to fight you right now. Go away.”
“Oh no,” said Cody.
A new droid stepped up, reluctant, to replace the one twitching on the ground with a bit of the local scenery embedded in its head. Again, the clankers conferenced. “No!” said the new lead droid. “I guess we’re just going to kill all of you— oh no.”
That was when the locals— adults this time, thankfully, finished levering a bit of the cliff face on the other side of the battlefield loose. It fell, crushing the droids instantly.
“That, I suppose,” Obi-Wan said, “Is one way to solve the problem.”
The 501st touched down on Anoth a little late, as usual, but still on time to give them backup for the incursion in the capitol city the next day. Cody, who had been able to time his future headaches ever since he’d been assigned to work in the field, had stocked up on migraine medicine.
This was, partially, because of the usual chaos Skywalker and Kenobi caused when put together, but mostly today it was because this was the first time Skywalker would meet Betta Kolvar.
There was a reason the propaganda machine had been assigned to the 212th and not the 501st.
Two of those reasons bounded up to where Obi-Wan and Cody were standing in the hangar bay.
Commander Tano and General Skywalker looked even more cheerful than usual, which was worrying. They greeted Cody and his General, and Anakin slung an arm around Obi-Wan’s shoulders.
Cody heard the tell-tale click of Kolvar’s holocam, and winced under his bucket. Just so long as they could go one single mission without getting photographic evidence of any crimes, hairbrained schemes, or pranks, Cody was willing to let some of the more embarrassing photos slide.
“Obi-Wan!” said Skywalker cheerfully. He had a glint in his eye. “How are you doing, Master?”
“Good…” Obi-Wan said cautiously.
Tano grinned. That alone was enough to send a shiver up Cody’s spine. “Make any new friends?”
“You’re going to have to just tell me what this is about,” Obi-Wan said.
“We want to meet Liob!” Anakin said, and Cody let out a wheeze that he managed to turn into a cough at the very last second.
“What,” Obi-Wan said.
Anakin shoved a holo in front of Obi-Wan’s face. “This guy!”
Obi-Wan’s face did something interesting. “Hm,” he said, and put a hand over his mouth. “Do you want to take a look at this, Commander?”
Cody did not, but this was a war and sometimes you had to do distasteful things. He looked at the holo.
It was a picture, taken from the middle of a pretty important fight with the Seppies.
Liob was standing off to one side, head tilted, and Obi-Wan was caught in a real, genuine belly-laugh, head thrown back and everything.
Unfortunately, Cody knew exactly which brother was inside the armor that day, because it was him.
Some of the vod had thought it would be a funny prank to replace Cody’s armor with Liob’s while he was sleeping. This would not have been funny even on a regular day, but when the alarms had blared Cody had been halfway into the armor before he’d even fully woken up, not to mention realized it wasn’t his own.
But it was too late to change by then, and Cody had been forced to go out in Liob’s gear.
In retrospect, he should have gone naked.
Either way, Cody had gone out to the battle— a sentry had spotted the clankers before they got too close to the camp, at least, and casualties hadn’t been as high as they could have been. He’d found General Kenobi in the thick of it like usual.
Obi-Wan had nodded distractedly at him, acknowledging his entrance, then turned away to focus on the fight. This was pretty normal when they fought side-by-side; however, Obi-Wan usually didn’t turn back for an exaggerated double take.
Cody gave him a blank stare through the helmet.
Then Obi-Wan had laughed. It was the only time Cody had heard any real cheer for a week, and that laugh was the only thing that had ensured the troops didn’t get yelled at that night. Or at least that they got yelled at less.
Apparently, Kolvar had gotten a picture of it.
“If this guy can make Obi-Wan laugh,” Skywalker said.
“On a battlefield no less,” said Tano.
“We just have to meet him,” Skywalker said. “I want to hear the joke he said. I can’t believe you never introduced us before.”
“Sergeant Major Liob’s away,” Cody said. “He’s on latrine duty with Waxer and Boil for the very foreseeable future.”
“Aww, man,” Skywalker said. “Are you sure we can’t meet him?”
“Very,” Obi-Wan said.
This was probably the time to tell them that Liob did not exist, and thus was impossible to meet. But neither Cody nor Obi-Wan said anything.
“Well, then, I want to go over the plan for tomorrow,” Anakin said, steering Obi-Wan away. Ahsoka put her arm around his other shoulder. “Snips and I have a really good idea on how to infiltrate the base, and don’t say no until you hear the whole thing…”
Cody did not want to talk about the holos that came out of the next few days.
Skywalker and Tano seemed delighted to have someone to mug to while they pulled their usual stunts. There was much more backflipping involved than usual, which considering the usual amount of backflipping that went on meant that Cody was taking at least a few aspirin every day.
Kolvar also got a picture of the Generals and the Commander sleeping after the battle in the wreckage of a gunship, all piled up on top of each other like tookas. Cody saved that one to his growing collection of personal holos.
The rest of the holos, he was Not. Talking. About.
At least the GAR already knew how to spin publicity.
“I don’t know,” General Kenobi said, peering through a pair of electro-binocs at the facility looming in the distance. “The space around the factory is very visible— it will be hard to sneak in from any side, even if you men try to distract from my approach from the inside.”
Cody hummed an agreement, going over his HUD scans to look for a weak point.
This factory was on a world that was technically neutral. But they hadn’t signed over to the Council of Neutral Systems, and their communications were, how should Cody say… hinky. The Senate was fairly sure that they were secretly supplying munitions to the Separatists.
The planetary government had agreed to let the clones tour the suspicious electronics factory, after a bit of nervous shuffling. But they were to be strictly monitored and supervised, and any Jedi in their ranks were sure to be even more so. It would be very difficult to get away enough to find these purported munitions.
The troops were waiting behind them; just a dozen or so that had been chosen as the diplomatic envoy for the factory tour. They had been handpicked by Cody and the General, of course, so Cody knew all of them. Among them were Waxer and Boil.
“Oh,” Cody said, “no.” He grimaced. “I have a really bad idea.”
Even the most discerning of eyes would probably not have been able to tell that one of the clones was ever-so-slightly taller and slimmer than the others. They also wouldn’t be able to discern any difference in accents, since Gears had rigged up a vocoder to modulate out of the helmet that sounded just like any other vod.
But anyone could, probably, be able to tell that the 212th, renowned for their prowess on the battlefield, professionals, were a little bit gigglier than normal.
“Shut up,” Cody said, glaring back at them, particularly Waxer and Boil. “If you blow this, you’re going to wish for latine duty.”
One of the locals hesitantly came to greet them at the front gate. They were a big, reptilian-skinned species with three arms. “You’re the clone army from the Republic?” they asked.
“That’s us,” Cody said. “I’m Commander Cody, and this is my second-in-command, Lieutenant… Liob.” Liob had gone up two ranks while they were wrestling Obi-Wan into his armor— no one wanted the General to be down a rank from them.
“No Jedi?” the reptilian asked, trying not to sound too hopeful as they craned their neck to look around the troops.
“Sorry,” Cody said. “He had urgent business to attend to elsewhere, sent us instead.”
“I hope that’s amenable,” Liob said.
“Oh, yes!” the reptilian said, very obviously relieved. “Come on in.”
The factory was ostensibly for producing agricultural equipment. And the things that they were seeing so far lined up with that. They were also being taken along a very specific path, with absolutely no detours or peeks into other rooms.
Cody exchanged looks with… Liob.
“Oh, gee,” said someone from the back— Soup. “What does this door lead to?”
When he opened it, predictably, alarms started to blare, and a red light started to flash across the facility.
“Whoopsie,” Soup said, as the reptilian hurried to close the door and reset the alarm.
Their guide distracted, Cody covered the hallway while General Kenobi slipped off around the corner, still wearing that hideous armor, but quiet and stealthy as ever.
When the guide turned back, the ranks had closed in to cover the gap, and if they’d had their helmets off, their faces would all have been perfectly innocent.
“Please don’t touch anything,” the reptilian said tightly, and the men nodded their heads eagerly, as if learning new and fascinating information for the first time. They continued the tour, following after their guide like little clone ducklings.
Waxer and Boil boxed the reptilian in on either side, asking questions about every step of the process, every piece of equipment they saw, and the weather on this planet. In other words, annoying them enough that they didn’t notice the General’s absence. Their area of expertise.
The plan worked fairly well most of the way through the facility, until the moment that the alarms started to flash again, this time at a higher and more frenetic pitch than before. Cody’s comm crackled, and the artificial voice they’d set up for Liob came through.
“Ah,” he said, much more understated than any real clone would sound. “It seems I’ve encountered a problem.”
“Sir?” Cody said.
“The good news is that we can confirm they’re making munitions here.” The comm crackled.
In the far distance, something blew up.
Cody drew his gun and whirled just in time to catch their guide fumbling for a weapon in their belt, off-guard. “Back up,” Cody said, and they did, raising their hands. The clones swiftly disarmed them. “Where are you, sir?” Cody asked into his helmet. “We’ll come get you.”
“Oh,” said Obi-Wan dryly from the other end, “I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding me.”
Something else blew up. It was followed by the sound of something big and probably mechanical screeching and falling.
“Ask a stupid question…” Cody said. As one, he and the men turned and ran towards the sound of the destruction.
Thankfully, Kolvar, who had been left in camp a ways away with the rest of the men, but apparently still had a really, really long lens camera, didn’t get any pictures of “Liob” using a lightsaber.
She did, however, capture Liob doing an extremely impressive spin kick, taking off two clankers’ heads at the same time. Liob’s legend, unfortunately, had just grown to new heights.
Over the next few weeks, several troopers all across the army attempted— and failed— the same move. If one brother could do it, after all…
Kix called Cody to ask if he knew why all the troopers were coming in lately with pulled groins, and if he could possibly get them to stop it.
“No,” Cody said, and hung up on him.
“I’m sorry,” said Obi-Wan, coming into the circle around the fire shaking snow off his shoulders. He looked tired. “They can’t send new boots until the Negotiator refuels.”
There was a grumble of complaints around the campfire.
“We’ve been waiting for two months,” Cody groused, not angry at the General but at High Command.
“I know,” Obi-Wan sighed. “And I’ve told them that we need it. The med-tent has been passing out more extra socks than they have bandages. I called in some favors, but…”
“Budget cuts,” Cody said with the tone of a swear. “Back to your business, men.”
They returned to alternately warming themselves up by and burning things on the campfire, which was really at the moment their only source of entertainment.
“How much longer do you reckon we can last? Frostbite’s already a concern,” Cody said in an aside to Obi-Wan. “Most of the troops’ shoes are already all but worn-though.”
“Trust me, I’m well-aware,” Obi-Wan said wryly, waggling his foot at him. “I think our only choice is to finish this campaign as soon as possible. The Senate is being typically obtuse on this.”
“When aren’t they?” Cody asked. Then he noticed Kolvar— she had been nearby the whole time. He flushed. “Sorry, ma’am.”
“Don’t mind me,” she said. But her fur ruffs were rippling thoughtfully as she looked out at the men. “A little harmless complaining never hurt me.”
Wooley was using his finger, poked through the bottom of his boot, to wave at a shiny next to him, who was trying to keep back laughter.
Obi-Wan noticed and smiled. “I have a little bit of liquid synth-leather left,” he said. “I’d better go give it to Wooley before he terrorizes the new recruits too much.”
“Hold on,” Kolvar said, digging for her holo-cam. “Wait on that a second.”
Both Cody and Obi-Wan watched in bewilderment as she aimed and took a photo of Wooley. Cody looked to make sure he hadn’t started doing something heroic. Nope, he was still being stupid.
“Taking pictures of courageous deeds is one thing,” Cody said dubiously, “But Wooley screwing off?”
“You’ll see,” Kolvar said. “Excuse me? Crys? Is your boot still broken too?”
Crys, who was sorting through his pack, turned to her, a little confused but still mostly cheerful. “Yes ma’am,” he said.
“Can you show me?”
Crys shrugged, and gave a cheesy grin, showing off the bottom of his foot, where the sole of his standard-issue was tearing away. He hammed it up, pointing to his poor boot like a holostar.
“That’s perfect,” Kolvar said, snapping the picture. “Anyone else?”
A flurry of boots came off.
Cody didn’t understand what she had been doing until the next round of photos went out— and a huge supply ship came in.
“We’re not scheduled for anything,” Cody said, jogging up to the ship with his hands tucked under his arms to keep them warm.
“It just came in on the list this morning,” said Materiel. “I verified it, sir. No trick.”
“All right,” Cody said, and got there at the same time as several other curious brothers.
The door hissed open and a soft-shell clone poked his head out, grinning when he saw the faces waiting for him. “I don’t know who you had to blackmail, bribe, or otherwise kill, but I sure wish I was in on it,” he said.
Cody raised an eyebrow. The supply clone activated the hover function on one of the— many?— boxes inside, and pushed it forward with his foot. Cody caught it and keyed in the standard code to open the box.
“Oh,” he said, looking at a lot of boots. The whole crate was full.
“There’s another box of these,” said the supplier. “Two of cold-weather gear, and one of recreation supplies. ”
Recreation supplies were, as most clones joked, mostly a myth. They usually had things like holos, magazines, sports gear, sometimes pin-ups. Cody could think of about one time when the supply sergeant’s request for recreation supplies had actually been approved while they were on a campaign.
“Kriff,” Cody said. “Who did kill somebody for this?”
He snagged a clone out of the mass gathering around the coveted boots. They were eying the crate kind of like hungry wolves.
“Do you know where General Kenobi is?” he said.
“I saw him going into the communications tent,” said Manacle. “Are these really boots?”
Cody pointed a finger at him. “You’re responsible for distributing these now. One pair, each man. And you save a pair for me and a pair for General Kenobi.”
“Yessir,” Manacle said, lighting up as a man with the power to control his brothers with only a few pairs of boots. He hopped eagerly up onto the transport and raised his hands authoritatively. “I’m not going to make you have a cage fight to see which one of you gets the boots first, but I’m just saying I’d like a little entertainment…”
Cody walked away on that. It was fine. It was probably fine.
The light was on in the communications tent, meaning someone was using the comm station, but the classified light wasn’t, which meant it was fine for Cody to slip inside.
Obi-Wan and Kolvar were standing in front of the holotable.
“Yes,” Obi-Wan was saying. “Yes, we’re very sorry. Yes. I understand that it might not have been the best look for the Republic.”
“We just didn’t know,” Kolvar said, innocently enough.
Anyone acting that guiltless in this army had something to hide. This was shedding some light on the supplies outside. They were starting to get louder out there— possibly a karaoke contest for first boot?
On the screen was General Windu, General Yoda, Chancellor Palpatine, and a couple irritated-looking advisors. “I’ve been getting calls from constituents all day,” said an unpleasant-faced Chiss Senator, crossing her arms. “They want to know how long we’re going to let our troops walk around in bare feet.”
“I was just documenting everyday life,” Kolvar said. “This is, I’m afraid, everyday life for our troops.”
“It makes us look as if we can’t take care of our own troops,” sulked another Senator.
Cody did not snort. Sometimes, the Senators got very close to being right, completely by accident.
“Okay, okay,” Kolvar said. “No more holos of the men barefoot in snow. Or draining water through the bottom of their boots.”
“It may be a good idea to take some holos of the new supplies we sent them,” said Chancellor Palpatine, which meant it was a ‘suggestion’, not a suggestion. “To let the people know that the clones they were worried about are being well taken-care of.”
“Of course,” Obi-Wan said. “We’ll get right on that.”
“Let me just remind you that we sent out a photographer to drum up support for the war, not show unpleasant holos or distress the readers of the column,” the Chiss Senator said.
“As the lady said,” Obi-Wan said, “She is only taking photos of what she sees.”
The holocall wrapped up quickly after that. The only ones who looked amused were Obi-Wan, Kolvar, and Yoda, who was chuckling to himself even as the projection winked out.
“I suppose now I don’t have to ask where all these supplies came from,” Cody said, stepping forward.
“There was a recent outpouring of support for the troops, particularly the 212th,” Obi-Wan said.
“I didn’t know you had it in you, ma’am,” Cody said, and Kolvar’s fur ruffled with pride.
“I may not be that familiar with the horrors of war, but I do know bad press,” she said. “The public has become quite attached to you boys. They called into the Senate in droves to get you those boots.”
“Are you in much trouble?” Cody asked.
Obi-Wan shook his head. “In the end people are donating more to the war effort,” he said. “It is, overall, a win.”
Kolvar was about to become the most popular member of this army. At least, after they stopped biting each other to get first pick of the shoes.
Cody did not know how he had been persuaded into this, but here he was. The Negotiator had been space-bound for almost three weeks now; Cody supposed it was impossible not to get a little bored in that time.
The clones were having a party in the rec room on Deck 14.
“Are you going to give a speech?” Longshot, who was already drunk, asked Cody.
“I am not,” Cody said.
Longshot gasped. “But don’t you want to support Liob’s promotion? Did you at least bring him a gift?”
Cody had, in fact, finangled the cake, after a couple rounds of planning, espionage, and downright begging. “I did not,” he said.
“I just hope Liob’s not too disappointed,” said Longshot, a little misty-eyed, and wobbled away.
Someone had made a sparkly banner— it said, CONGRATULATIONS CAPTAIN LIOB!!!
They did not throw a party every time the troopers somehow managed to get Liob promoted. If they did, they’d be having almost more parties than battles. At this rate, Waxer and Boil’s stupid made-up clone was going to end up Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. But they were bored enough and had enough free time and extra supplies that it started to look like a good idea, even to Cody.
As it was, the party was in full swing.
General rule among the 212th— so far as Cody knew, the only battalion in the whole GAR who knew that Liob was not real— was that whoever was Liob wasn’t allowed to take off their helmet. There were too many variations in face decorations, after all; hair color and tattoos and facial hair. With a photographer on the loose, no one wanted to spoil the game.
Waxer and Boil, who both had wanted to be at the party as themselves, had gotten around this rule.
“If only Liob could be here,” slurred Boil, with a drink in his hand from the impromptu stage they were using for speeches. Only Waxer’s intervention meant he didn’t fall off the stack of supply crates. “Unfortunately, as we all know, he’s off on a top-secret mission. They say he kicked a Sith in the face, and General Yoda personally asked him to go Sith-hunting.”
“I heard Liob used the Force on accident and now they’re training him as a Jedi!” shouted Soup from the crowd.
“That’s a good one,” Waxer said. “Well, I wasn’t supposed to tell you boys this, but yes, he is in fact in Jedi training. I hear his lightsaber is green. No. Pink.”
A cheer went up from the crowd.
Cody hid a smile behind his drink.
Various clones got up on stage to profess the tales of Liob’s exploits, which, apparently, extended off the battlefield and into the bedroom. Crys got a little too graphic with his recounting, and got booed off the stage from one half of the room, the other half laughing and telling him to come back and tell some more.
They had invited the Generals— both Kenobi and Skywalker, who was onboard for mysterious Jedi reasons and also, so far as Cody could tell, for the purpose of systematically destroying each and every one of the cleaning droids as he got increasingly bored.
They came to the party, late, which was usually how they did it. The Jedi never seemed to think they were really welcome among the clones; they always came in long enough to be polite, but never enough to intrude.
But the vod were genuinely happy to see them, and another rowdy cheer went up as they walked in. Someone immediately gave them both drinks, and they drew them further into the party.
“This is quite the turnout,” Skywalker said, as they came up to Cody to say hello. “This guy must be really popular.”
“You wouldn’t believe it,” Cody said.
“So can I meet Captain Liob? Where is he?”
“Sorry, sir,” Cody said. “I’m afraid he’s off on assignment. Classified. A last-minute sort of thing. He wouldn’t mind us celebrating without him.”
Skywalker pouted. “Everyone else gets to meet him but me! Tenday told me that Liob karate chopped straight through his chains one time when he got captured.”
“That sounds just like him,” Obi-Wan said.
“Force, he sounds like fun,” Skywalker said. “Not like you two. You wouldn’t know fun if it hit you in the face. When’s the last time you even broke a regulation, Cody?”
“Can’t recall,” Cody said.
Obi-Wan had been taking a sip of his drink; he snorted it a little, and Cody felt his mouth twitch.
“The 212th is weird,” Skywalker declared, just as Crys got back up on the stage, this time for some reason without a shirt.
This planet, one so backwater it didn’t even have a name, was filled mostly with reddish mud that reminded Cody very unpleasantly of blood. The 212th were dug in; sometimes quite literally, as they had to excavate their tents and their vehicles more than once, even under enemy fire.
Things were really, really not going well.
Cody slipped and slid as he pulled himself behind the dubious cover of a rock, wiping mud out of his eyes. He’d lost his helmet some time ago, and not all the red was mud.
“Howzit, sir?” asked Waxer cheerfully, though the line of his shoulders was tense.
“Oh, you know,” Cody said.
He surveyed the group crouched there; Waxer, Boil, Wooley, Peel, and Betta Kolvar. The battalion had predictably adopted their photographer into the fold after she’d really pulled through for them on getting them sorely-needed boots a few months ago. Waxer and Boil particularly, who had an affinity for picking up pathetic life-forms, looked out for her. Even now Boil was crouched in front of her, covering her best he could.
“Any word from the 501st?” asked Peel hopefully.
“Not yet,” Cody said.
A shell whistled overhead; they all ducked, Cody covering his unprotected head with his arms even as Waxer shoved him over and crouched over him. The proton shell exploded, sending bits of rock and mud showering over them.
“That’ll wake you up,” Waxer said, even as Cody swore and pushed him off him.
Cody poked his head over the rock, and shot a few blaster bolts at the droids cresting the hill. Some of them were getting stuck in the mud, but still… there were a lot of droids. Kolvar was kind of scrunched into the corner, fur covered with mud.
“Waxer, Boil,” Cody said. “Maybe take Representative Kolvar back to the gunships.”
The gunships which were, while grounded and half-submerged in mud, probably the safest possible place on this planet at the moment. The 212th did not make a habit out of taking their combat photographer into situations where she might actually get killed. But sometimes their intel was bad, and there were a lot more clankers than advertised, and Cody lost his helmet.
“I’m not going,” Kolvar said. Cody raised an eyebrow at her. Looking closer, she wasn’t just crouched over to try to keep her head down— she was actively protecting something. Her holocam.
“What are you doing?” Cody asked.
“I’m uploading today’s pictures to my editor,” Kolvar said.
“Um,” said Peel. “Why?”
“If we die here,” Kolvar said, even as more blasterfire rained above their heads, “This will be the only thing left. Don’t you want them to know what happened?”
The clones exchanged looks. “I don’t think anyone will care,” Wooley said.
“They’ll care,” Kolvar said. She was still hunched over her camera. “They have to care. That’s what this is all about.”
A shadow flew over their heads, and everyone ducked again. But Cody recognized the size and shape— he peered up over the rock, and was unsurprised when a very familiar lightsaber landed upright in the mud in front of their hiding place.
“Kriffing general,” Cody muttered to himself. “Got a stray ball.” This was generally accepted trooper slang, meaning that one of their Jedi had lost their lightsaber again. Boil groaned. “I’m going out,” Cody said.
He hoisted himself up to peer over the wall, making sure he wasn’t about to walk into an ambush. He looked back at Kolvar. “Thanks for caring, ma’am,” he said.
Then he climbed over the rock, and, breaking out into a run, stooped and picked up Obi-Wan’s lightsaber without breaking stride. A pair of clones hunkered down in a trench pointed when they saw him go by; he followed the lines of their fingers and found Obi-Wan ducking and rolling in the middle of a circle of clankers.
Cody swore under his breath. Then he hurled himself, feet-first, at the closest of the droids in the circle, knocking it and himself over. Then Cody wrestled it around and tore off the head with one big yank.
“Sir,” Cody said reproachfully, rolling to his feet. He handed over the lightsaber.
“Oh, thank you, Cody,” Obi-Wan said, pretending not to notice Cody’s disapproval. He ignited it and started deflecting blasts.
Cody stood behind him and started shooting. It seemed like every time he took a droid out, two or three more would take its place.
Just as things were starting to look really, really bad, the General looked up. Cody didn’t follow his gaze, focused on the fight, but a moment later he could hear the engines of several dogfighters— high-pitched enough that it meant they belonged to the good guys.
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, fondly. “Late as usual.”
“Actually, I think he’s right on time, sir,” Cody said, sagging with relief. Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at him. Cody showed him a power cell as he slotted it into his gun. “It’s my last one.”
“Ah,” Obi-Wan said. “Well, we shan't tell Anakin about that, yes?”
“Agreed,” Cody said.
She had gotten a picture of Cody vaulting over the kriffing rock. The sun was behind him, explosions and blaster bolts dotting the background. His face was set in determination and apparently heroic fire, although Cody thought he really just looked annoyed about the stray lightsaber.
Paintbrush made it into a poster, styled as a stained glass window, and put it up in the bunk room on the Negotiator.
What Cody found out from this experience was that he could actually make Paintbrush turn pale just by looking at him for a few weeks afterwards, and that no matter what he did, the 212th boys would somehow keep the poster coming back.
Cody and Obi-Wan often did their paperwork together. They both had a lot of it to do, after all, and it was better to do it with someone else there to prod you awake or at least to put a blanket over your shoulders.
Obi-Wan was looking at something and frowning. “Can you take a look at this, Commander?” he asked. He handed a datapad over when Cody held out a hand to receive it.
“What is it?” Cody asked, flipping through it.
“Another request to send Liob in to complete his medical file,” Obi-Wan said.
Cody raised an eyebrow. “I thought the men already took care of that— they got Fracture to sign off and everything.”
“Precisely,” Obi-Wan said. “But now I have messages from Kamino and the Office of The Supreme Chancellor saying he’s missing important medical procedures.” Cody looked at the paperwork— and it was a lot less well-composed than the first message had been. Almost desperate.
“What kind of procedures?” Cody asked.
“That’s precisely what I want to know,” Obi-Wan said. “I read over the medical file the men made up— everything is in there that should be in there. It’s the same as yours or any other clone’s. And it should be impossible for any parts of these files to be classified from me, or from you.”
“You think there’s something classified in all our files that Liob’s is missing?” Cody asked, frowning. This wasn’t as funny as Liob’s usual exploits— last week’s had involved three different clones switching between the Liob armor in the middle of a diplomatic function.
“I don’t know,” Obi-Wan said. “That’s what I’m worried about.”
Cody sat back in his chair. “Seems like another inspection tour is due, yes? Me, Rex, Kamino?”
“Very due, yes,” Obi-Wan said. “I’ll sign off on it. Perhaps you can take Ahsoka along— a learning experience.” Not to mention a pair of lightsabers, attached to a Jed that would garner much less attention than the famed Negotiator or the Hero With No Fear.
“Yes sir,” Cody said. “That sounds like a good plan.” He was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
Cody tried not to look too obviously pale over the video call. Beside him, Commander Tano had her hands clasped behind her back so tightly that her fingers were white, and Rex was obviously trying not to throw up again.
“…Cody,” Obi-Wan said cautiously over the other end, obviously picking up on something. “How did the trip go?”
“F—” Cody’s voice cracked. “Fine, sir. I wondered if the boys had given you Liob’s personal comm number yet. In case you wanted to contact him while he was on shore leave.”
“I don’t believe so,” Obi-Wan said.
“Waxer and Boil can give it to you,” Cody said. Liob did indeed have a comm— this was, mostly, so that the vod could use it for prank calls, and also so that whoever was being Liob could contact the others. But the number wasn’t in any Republic database, and more importantly, no one in the Chancellor’s office knew about it.
“I’ll ask them,” Obi-Wan said.
“Please do,” Cody said. “We’re almost finished with inspections here— just a few things to finish up.”
“All right. I will get on that immediately,” Obi-Wan said softly. He obviously still didn’t understand what was going on, but he was quick on the uptake. Cody could only hope that if their communications were being monitored, whoever was watching on the other end didn’t know them well enough to notice anything. “May the Force be with you.”
“May the Force be with all of us,” Ahsoka said. Cody shut off the projector.
They all looked down at the dead Kaminoan at their feet. It was possible this one knew about the chips, but they wouldn’t ever know now, would they?
“I’m sorry,” Rex said. “It really was an instinct!”
“I’ll show you instinct—” Cody said.
“We can’t just remove them,” Obi-Wan said, highly perturbed, once Cody, Rex, and Ahsoka were back on the Negotiator . “We don’t know what kind of damage that could do to you.”
“No offense, sir,” Cody said, “But I’d let Stitches or Fracture rip it out with a rusty pair of scissors if I had to. I want it gone.” Rex nodded beside him.
“General Ti said she would keep working on slicing into the orders on the chip so she could change them,” Rex said. “But I don’t like the idea that it could happen at all, or that it could be hacked again after that.”
“Yes, well— wait, Shaak knows?”
“She found us stuffing a couple bodies into a closet,” Ahsoka said sheepishly. “It’s fine. She was as horrified as the rest of us when she found out. She’ll help us.”
Obi-Wan pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m not going to ask whose bodies,” he said, which was probably wise. General Ti said she would take care of them. “It seems fairly obvious who stands the most to gain from all the orders— it must be the Chancellor.”
“Demagolka,” Rex swore.
“Indeed,” Obi-Wan said. “Which means, so far as we know, all our lines of communication and official avenues are compromised.”
“We should tell Skyguy,” Ahsoka said, and bit her lip. “Right?”
“The General is pretty close with the Chancellor,” Rex said uncertainly, and raised his hands under the glare Ahsoka was aiming at him. “I’m not saying he knows! He would never do that! I’m just saying the guy can’t keep a secret to save his life.” He was referring, of course, to Senator Amidala. Even Ahsoka had to concede that one— she pouted.
“We’ll handle this internally, insomuch as that is possible, for now,” Obi-Wan said.
“I’ll talk to Stitches,” Cody said. “I’m sure he can come up with a way to remove the control chips safely. Once he does— maybe a shipwide flu? Not bad, but something that requires quarantine. Maybe something that only affects clones.”
“Good idea,” Ahsoka said. “I can tell Anakin I’m staying here to help since the 212th will be shorthanded because of the all the casualties. And Rex can’t risk spreading it to his brothers.”
“It’s going to cause panic,” Obi-Wan said.
“The vod can handle it,” Cody said. "They'll stay cool."
"Question is whether the Senate will," Rex said. "The 212th will be out of action for a while. Hopefully the 501st shortly after that, if you don't mind me saying so, sirs."
"I'm sure we can organize a breach of the contagion," Obi-Wan said, amused. "I'll keep the Senators at bay for a while."
"You guys do realize," Ahsoka said, "There's someone on board whose job it literally is to document stuff like this and send it to the Senate."
“Oh,” Obi-Wan said. “Right.”
Kolvar looked taken-aback when she entered into Obi-Wan’s office and found not just the General but the rest of them waiting there too.
“Um, hello… sirs. And ma’am,” she said.
Ahsoka made a face, visibly unused to being called ma’am, but said nothing.
“Did you… need me?” Kolvar asked.
“We have a mission of vital importance which we will be carrying out on this ship as soon as possible,” Obi-Wan said. “Unfortunately, it is very top secret.”
“Oh,” Kolvar said. “That’s all right; I’ve been cleared to take photos of classified ops. You approve the ones that go through to my editor, the rest of them go into an encrypted archive that will be de-classified fifty years after the war ends.”
“That’s the thing,” Ahsoka said. “This is really, really top secret. The Senate can’t know. Not even the Council, not yet, until we can talk to them in person.”
Kolvar looked wrong-footed. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t order you to lie,” Obi-Wan said, though Cody thought if it was him he wouldn’t have told her that. “But we would appreciate your assistance covering up a very delicate matter.”
Kolvar folded her arms. “Not unless you tell me what’s going on.”
They told her what was going on. She looked, at least, properly horrified.
“That can’t be true!” she said.
“It is,” Obi-Wan said. “And I think you can guess why we don’t want this becoming public knowledge.”
Her fur ruffled again, but then she shook herself. She stood a little taller. “I’ll do whatever I need to to help. Just point me in the right direction.”
Rex was the first one to go through the surgery, though not for lack of volunteers. Cody attempted to go first but was shot down by virtue of his rank. Cody was pretty sure the other vod just didn’t want to have to deal with his paperwork if he died.
By all appearances things went well with the surgery— Stitches and his assistant Reflex came out of the surgery room after about an hour with a little chip in a vial. The brothers, many of whom had gathered around the entrance to the medbay door, buzzed with relief, elbowing each other and clapping arms around shoulders.
But then it was for the real test— they moved into the patient room with the glass wall. Rex was sitting up in bed, looking groggy and with a bacta patch on his temple but all right. He let Fracture cuff him to the bed, then everyone’s attention turned to Kolvar.
She was the only natborn on board who wasn’t also a Jedi. She looked nervous, but not so much as Cody felt. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka were gathered with the rest of the clones, who had all come unarmed. Just in case.
They had turned off the intercom, but Cody saw Kolvar’s lips form the words: execute Order 66.
Rex blinked, then turned to give the glass partition a thumbs-up. They cheered.
To her credit, Kolvar did a really good job of helping them cover up the mass medical procedures going on onboard the Negotiator. She got a pretty good shot of Ahsoka watching a holonovel with Soup as he recovered, with Soup looking appropriately flu-ridden and on the opposite side of the healing scar where the chip was taken out.
Pictures of the men in the beds, not overly alarming but looking serious enough that no one would question the need for quarantine, a holo of Stitches asleep over his desk, an image captured of Waxer and Boil swapping Jello flavors, enough detail not to invite questions.
Or so Cody thought, until he got an alert that there was a shipment coming in.
Cody traded alarmed looks with the shiny manning the comms station, and gently pushed him aside to take the microphone. "Uh, negative, negative," he said. "This ship is under quarantine— no drops in or out."
"Don't worry about it," came a voice from the other end of the line, and Cody cringed. "This is General Skywalker. I'm here to drop off a care package for you boys."
Cody signalled for the shiny to get the General. He took off.
"Negative," Cody said, wincing. "The virus may be more… potent? Than we previously thought. Don't want to risk it."
"I can filter out viruses," Skywalker said. "We'll be fine. I wanted to see Snips— that is, Commander Tano, and General Kenobi anyway."
…kriff. At least Skywalker hadn’t seemed to recognize his voice— understandable— and wasn’t wondering about why a Commander was on phone duty.
“Um,” Cody said.
“Look, can I speak to Obi-Wan?” Skywalker asked.
“Please,” Cody said, with relief as Obi-Wan reached the bridge and made a beeline for them. He handed over the comm.
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said. “We wouldn’t want to risk spreading this flu— it’s not deadly but it is quite an inconvenience. Perhaps you could come back again another time.”
“I’ve got some care packages,” Skywalker whined. “Obi-Wan, what’s going on? That ship doesn’t feel sick.”
Kriffing Jedi and their weird feelings. Obi-Wan and Cody exchanged a glance; Cody shrugged.
“I suppose you can touch down for a little while at least,” Obi-Wan said. “Why don’t you land in Hangar Four. I’ll meet you there.”
A 501st ship landed with sufficient lack of style in their hangar that someone besides Skywalker had to be piloting it. Cody and Rex waited with Commander Tano and Obi-Wan as the door hissed open and Skywalker sauntered out of it.
He stopped short when he saw there were brothers in the hangar. “Whoa!” he said. “Thought we were supposed to be avoiding spreading this thing. I’ve got two clones onboard who wouldn’t appreciate getting sick.”
“About that,” Obi-Wan said.
“I’ll go brief the men,” Cody said, taking the coward’s way out and loping quickly towards the gunship. Skywalker’s temper was legendary, and Cody didn’t particularly feel like dealing with a temper tantrum on top of everything else at the moment.
Ahsoka gave him a pleading look but Cody had already left her behind. Rex looked torn between loyalty and self-preservation; in the end, he stayed with them, putting a hand on Ahsoka’s shoulder. Skywalker was looking increasingly befuddled, and, in his traditional way, was getting angry about it.
On the ship, Fives and Echo had just settled down to a game of sabacc, and they startled when they saw Cody.
“Sir!” Echo said. “I thought we were supposed to be minimalizing contact. Because of the flu?”
“There’s no flu,” Cody said. “You’ve just stumbled on something big. I’ll explain it to you while the Jedi talk it out outside.”
“If there’s no flu, can’t we go out there, vod?” Fives said.
“Trust me, you’re gonna want to wait,” Cody said. “Skywalker’s not going to like what he hears.”
Outside, there was a loud screech, like someone using the Force to crush something big and expensive. Cody sighed.
Echo and Fives’ surgeries went well. Kolvar cheered them up by showing them some of the more embarrassing pictures she’d caught of the 212th, of which there were unfortunately plenty. They recovered well enough to smash the control chips under their heels, a new tradition in the 212th.
Skywalker emerged from his sulk eventually, and joined them in their planning for the future.
“You’ll need to leave soon,” Obi-Wan said. “We can only claim engine troubles for so long before people start to get suspicious.”
“It is General Skywalker, sir,” Cody said.
“Hey, thanks, Cody!” Skywalker said, then; “Hey, wait, do you mean they wouldn’t believe it because I’m such a good mechanic, or that they would because I’m always breaking stuff?”
“Sir?” Cody said, innocently.
Skywalker narrowed his eyes at him. Obi-Wan cleared his throat. “You’ll have to take off soon. Our medic team has written a protocol for getting the chips out. It’s an easy enough procedure once you’ve had enough practice. We haven’t had any fatalities.”
“But what after that?” Skywalker demanded. “We might be able to keep it contained to two, three ships, but eventually the secret will get out.”
“Master Ti is trying to hack into the chips from Kamino, along with some of the clones there,” Ahsoka said. “Maybe she’ll be able to fix it so we don’t have to do the surgeries any more.”
Oh, they would. Just the idea of having once had something inside his head that could make him turn against the Jedi made his skin crawl. He couldn’t think of a brother that wouldn’t want theirs out, deactivated or no.
“Then what? We assassinate Palpatine?” Anakin asked, still looking surly. It had apparently taken quite some time to convince him of the Chancellor’s guilt, and Cody did not feel bad at all for hiding for the duration. “That doesn’t sound like something the Senate would approve of, Jedi killing Senators."
“I could make the shot from a couple buildings away,” Fives said cheerfully. “No one would ever even know it was us.”
This sounded like a good plan to Cody.
“Not the worst idea—” Ahsoka said, and Obi-Wan cleared his throat.
“We’ll think of other options,” he said dryly.
“I don’t like leaving Snips here,” Anakin said, climbing reluctantly back into the ship he, Fives, and Echo had taken to get onto the Negotiator in the first place. Ahsoka was busy running supplies for the medics, who always had more work to do now. “I’m her Master, and if the Chancellor really has it out for the Jedi, I should be with her.”
“Ahsoka can take care of herself, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said. “She’ll be fine. I’ll keep an eye out.”
“All right, I guess we should be off, then,” Skywalker said reluctantly. “You boys ready?” Fives and Echo barked out their affirmatives. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to fake a full illness onboard my ship. It’s quite the conspiracy.”
“Just tell them one of the men broke quarantine,” Cody suggested. “And you didn’t find out until too late.”
“Now what soldier would want to take that kind of a fall?” Skywalker asked.
“We already have a volunteer,” Obi-Wan said, then, when everyone’s curious gazes turned to him, he said; “Major Liob has already volunteered to take full responsibility.” This was the closest Cody had ever gotten in his life to cracking in front of General Skywalker. His laugh was held in only by great force of strength and will.
“What a stand-up guy,” Skywalker said. “Hey! This is finally my chance to meet him!”
“Sorry,” Cody said. “He’s recovering in the medbay as we speak. And you’re already late.”
“I always miss out on the fun stuff,” Skywalker grumbled, but he finally got into the gunship, and the engines whined as they primed to take to the air.
“Wait a second, what was it you were bringing to us in the first place?” Obi-Wan asked suddenly, looking at the pile of boxes they had unloaded in the cargo area next to the ship.
Skywalker grinned. “I told you. Care packages!”
“Dear 212th,” Obi-Wan read off a sheet of sparkly pink paper, “I saw on the holonews those pictures of you being sick. I feel really bad that you have to do battles and you still can get colds. I hope this helps. Love, Irina, age 11.”
Cody, curious, leaned over and opened the box that had come with the letters, and revealed a pile of slightly squashed chocolate chip cookies.
“Oh, dibs!” Waxer said, leaping forward to grab a handful.
“Those could be poisoned,” Cody said.
“The note says the Coruscant Guard already checked everything out,” Longshot said. “And— hey, they took samples of all the baked goods! There’s crumbs on this.”
Obi-Wan was hiding a smile behind his hand. “It seems our photographer has come in handy once more,” he said, and handed the letter to Cody. “Enjoy, men.”
“You don’t want to join us, sir?” Boil asked, already halfway inside a box with a hideous— apparently hand-made— blanket inside it.
Obi-Wan waved a hand. “They’re obviously for you,” he said.
“For the 212th,” Cody corrected. “Here. Take a box.” Following his usual strategy with General Kenobi, he didn’t actually let Obi-Wan say no, just shoved one of the packages into his arms so he had to take it or drop it.
There were various crows of victory and amazement as other vod unearthed more treasures from the care packages. They had never gotten anything of the sort before, and apparently what civilians deemed necessary for the troops was quite different from the military idea.
“A stuffed tooka!” said Soup, delighted. "It has little paws!" He unearthed a little stuffed creature that was probably destined to be the beginning of yet another pet-smuggling epidemic onboard the Negotiator. Last time Cody had spent a week checking all the nooks and crannies of the ship where his idiot troops may have hidden their animals, and he was still pretty sure there were one or two around.
Oddball found another tray of cookies and a huge package of something called hot chocolate; he was more or less forced to give the hot chocolate to Spoonie so that he could make it for their next meal in the mess. Rex, who had declared himself an honorary member of the 212th, pulled out a pair of pink mittens and immediately put them on.
Waxer, to his own complete and utter delight, pulled out a pair of women’s underthings. The men hooted. “ Dear 212th Attack Battalion,” he read out, earning more cheers and whistles. “ To smoother landings.”
Eventually, they all had to go back to work. But it was pretty much too late for the Negotiator; while before the barracks had always been decorated by some posters or a crude drawing or two, or maybe some tooka claw marks, now they had stuff to put in them.
Cody could hardly walk a step without running into something weird and decidedly non-military reg.
Manacle, the lucky sucker, had gotten a box full of adult magazines. He was auctioning them off to the highest bidder, more or less starting a black market of stuffed toys, wrapped candies, and other civilian gifts. Cody turned a slightly blind eye to this, and the other things the vode kept lying around.
Kolvar got a picture of Cody’s face the first time he tried hot chocolate. The GAR’s approval rating rocketed 30 percent.
The 501st caught the flu. Rex and Ahsoka went back to their own battalion.
Cody and Obi-Wan continued to plan how, exactly, they were going to take down the most powerful man in the Republic. And preferably not die in the process.
The 212th was back in rotation. With the current pace of the war, they’d be sent off to another battlefield sooner rather than later.
If they did, who knew how long it would be until they were back on Coruscant, or the next time they would see Chancellor Palpatine. He could get away with all sorts of things in that time— really, really bad things.
They were spending yet another fruitless hour in the General’s office trying to come up with a plan when the chime on the door rang.
“Enter,” Obi-Wan called, and Waxer and Boil immediately piled through the door, shoving each other in their haste. That was never a good sign. They were both practically vibrating with excitement.
“Yes?” Obi-Wan asked, clearly amused. “Permission to speak freely.”
“Sir!” Waxer said, and snapped off a neat salute. “We think we might have a plan to deal with that banthakriffe—” when Boil coughed and elbowed him, he revised himself— “Um, rude… guy… Chancellor Palpatine.”
Cody felt his lips twitch. “And how do you plan on doing that?”
“How,” Boil said, “do you think?”
“You want me to do fripping what?” asked Senator Amidala. When you made a really respectable senator swear, that was when you knew you had a good plan going. “Obi-Wan—”
“I know it sounds crazy,” Obi-Wan said. “Believe me, I know.”
“We don’t know the extent to which Chancellor Palpatine was involved in this plot, but we know he was most certainly involved,” Obi-Wan said. “We must find out exactly what’s going on.”
“And to do that, we’re going to need to get into his office in the Senate and his private apartments,” Cody added. “And to do that, we’re going to have to make sure the Senate is almost empty for a day.”
Amidala huffed. “So call in a bomb threat.”
“And have even closer surveillance on the building? Not a good idea,” Obi-Wan said.
Amidala huffed again, but Cody had known there was a reason the lady stayed with Skywalker; she had to be at least a little crazy herself. “Okay, okay, fine,” she said. She started to smile. Definitely had been spending time with Skywalker. “Exactly what is it you need me to do?”
Senator Amidala had gotten a few death threats recently. Nothing too serious but worrying enough that she had acquiesced to a little protection— here, two members of the 212th, since the 501st weren’t on Coruscant and it wasn’t serious enough to warrant a Jedi protector.
The protectors were Waxer, and also Liob.
As Cody understood it, Waxer and Boil had gotten into a rather heated shoving match and then a contentious thumb war over who got to be Liob in this momentous hour. Boil, as the original creator of Liob, had won out in the end.
Amidala was out in some of the lower districts of Coruscant, passing out food aid. This was actually something she did fairly often as Cody understood it. This meant there was nothing unusual as of yet.
Today, though, besides Waxer and Boil— actually, Liob — Betta Kolvar was accompanying her, filming for some kind of puff piece.
All as planned.
Cody stood sentry in the high point they had found and folded his arms. “I’m sure I can do it, sir,” he said.
“Nonsense,” Obi-Wan said, waving a hand. “I’m perfectly capable with a sniper rifle.”
Cody was a good soldier, so he did not make a disbelieving noise. But Obi-Wan— kriffing Jetti— seemed to sense it anyway and looked amused.
“How did Kolvar react when you asked her to help?” Cody asked. “I imagine she was a little confused.”
“Actually, it went rather well.” Obi-Wan paused for effect. “Turns out she knew that our Liob was not quite so real as we had implied.”
“What?” Cody said. “How? Even General Skywalker hasn’t figured it out.”
“Well,” Obi-Wan said, “Anakin is not exactly the shining example of intuitiveness. Apparently, she figured it out a few weeks in. When he came out with a lightsaber is when she really realized.”
Cody snorted. “She didn’t believe the boys’ story about a Force-sensitive clone?” They had been proud of that one. Cody was pretty sure Liob was a secret Jedi Grandmaster by now.
“She did not,” Obi-Wan said.
“Why didn’t she mention anything?” Cody asked.
“I believe she thought it was funny,” replied Obi-Wan.
Well, to be fair, it was.
“What else did she say?” Cody asked.
“That she’d miss him,” Obi-Wan said, and aimed the sniper rifle.
There was a moment as the first blaster bolt slammed into the wall by her head that Senator Amidala actually looked startled— probably she hadn’t been expecting such a close shave.
It was, Cody had to admit, an impressive shot.
“Senator!” Waxer called out loudly. “Get down!”
Obi-Wan again aimed the sniper rifle carefully, then, almost casually, he shot. At the very last moment, Liob, in all his polka-dotted armor glory, threw himself in front of the Senator. It was like it happened in slow-motion— the bolt impacted, Padme let out a convincing scream, and Liob fell.
“Nooo!” Waxer said.
“We should probably run,” Cody said, but truthfully he was transfixed on the scene below. It was mesmerizing to watch. Waxer was apparently having the time of his life.
“No,” Waxer said. “Not you, Liob.”
“Please,” said Boil, also having too much fun, “Is the Senator all right?”
“I’m fine, soldier,” Amidala said, like a heroine in one of the cheesy holodramas Rex kept in his desk. “Don’t worry about me.”
“Oh Force,” said Boil, “This is the end for me.”
“No,” said Waxer, and dramatically shed his bucket to reveal some artful tears. “You can’t. You’re the bravest man I’ve ever known.”
Padme put a hand over her mouth, but Cody was pretty sure she was just hiding a smile.
“Just remember me,” Boil said. “You know. Me. Liob. Remember me. I do this for the Senator, but most importantly… for the Republic.” And then, dramatically, he dropped his head to the ground. Cody could not see his face through the bucket, but he would bet anything that Boil had closed his eyes and possibly stuck out his tongue.
“Noooo-oooo!!!” said Waxer.
“Okay, we really need to run now,” Cody said, and they did.
Obviously the whole scene had been caught on video. Somehow Kolvar had just managed to miss getting an image of the shooter, but everything else was crystal clear.
The clip, luckily captured, went viral.
Liob was already a fairly well-known and loved clone, thanks to Kolvar’s various photos of the men. Him dying— and in such a heroic and well-televised way— was a major event for the Republic.
“Obviously we’re going to have to have a funeral service,” Chancellor Palpatine said to those assembled in his office. Cody was only there because Obi-Wan had invited him, and because it looked good for a clone to be involved in this. “Give the people closure, and all that.”
“Battalion Commander Liob—”
“Regimental Commander, actually, sir,” Cody said helpfully.
“Right,” said Mas Amedda, glaring. “Thank you. Regimental Commander Liob was a, well, brave clone. But a public funeral seems like it is overreacting a touch.”
“He did save a Senator’s life,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “A very well-known Senator.”
“And very publicly,” Kolvar said. She had been invited too, since she had gotten the footage. Cody was getting the sense that many of the Senators wished she had not. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know how you would get away without it. The public is very much mourning Liob.”
“What does that mean?” Cody asked, without meaning to.
Kolvar’s fur bristled at the back of her neck in a way that implied she was amused and trying not to show it. “They have set up several informal shrines throughout the city. Candlelight vigils and that sort of thing. Flowers and little gifts.”
“They have?” Cody asked. He had been sure they would be able to peer-pressure the various Senate members into pretending to show support to the clones, lest they lose political power. But he hadn’t thought the real people of the Republic would particularly notice or care. They lost a thousand brothers every day. At this point they were really more of a statistic.
“People are mourning, genuinely,” Kolvar said.
“We’ll have to show we care,” said a Senator, sounding far more concerned about the potential dip in approval ratings than anything else. “Perhaps a funeral would be a good idea…”
Cody pushed and shoved and elbowed his way in among his brothers so he could be near the front. The 212th, being Liob’s regiment, had been allowed to send a group up to stand on the stage with all the politicians.
Cody pushed Waxer and Boil aside and stepped out a little bit in front, to where Obi-Wan and Anakin were standing together. Senator Amidala was there too, which in Cody’s opinion was kind of a stupid move if someone really was trying to kill her.
Maybe Palpatine was trying to take advantage of the moment by putting her in the line of fire. He was standing on the stage with the rest of the Senators, looking, to Cody’s eyes, insufferably smug.
The crowd below the stage was about half brothers and half civilians. There were… a lot of people there. The stage itself was decorated in somber shades of black, and there was a holo projected onto the backboard of the stage— a picture of Liob, who Cody was pretty sure in that picture was actually Longshot. He was wearing the stupid polka-dot helmet.
The ceremony started, and Waxer and Boil, who Cody had seen making sure they were fully hydrated before they came here, got out their handkerchiefs.
The Chancellor had to speak first, showing his support for the troops, the Republic, etc. Cody wasn’t wearing his bucket, so he couldn’t scowl at him. But he did inwardly.
It was the usual speech that Cody was used to hearing for important people; the Republic has suffered a great loss, he will be mourned by his friends, will be remembered. Nothing inspiring, but— Cody didn’t think Palpatine realized the significance of what he was doing. The future implications that would rise out of this.
Because if you treated clones like people, like their deaths mattered… what next?
Some of the people in the crowd had started to cry. Padme took the stage next, dressed in black, with the typical flourishes of the Naboo. Her speech was much lovelier. She, of course, knew that no clone had died for her, but you wouldn’t guess it by the solemn way she was acting. She managed to make her speech about the overall clones who had died in the war, and the Jedi too.
Waxer and Boil were having a good time playing the bereaved. Manacle and Oddball were both comforting them, patting them on the shoulders.
When Padme began to read a piece of Nubian poetry, Cody heard a little sniffle.
He looked over and found that Skywalker was tearing up. He saw Cody— and Obi-Wan— gaping at him. “What?” he whispered. “He died for her. He was a good man.”
It was at that moment that everyone remembered they’d forgotten to tell Skywalker.
Unfortunately, that was the time when Crys stuck to his prescribed role and came up behind Obi-Wan, tapping him on the shoulder. He whispered something in his ear, all looking very serious and grave. Cody wondered what he was actually saying.
Obi-Wan thanked Crys, then gestured for Cody to follow him, and they made a discreet exit from the funeral.
Everyone would assume this was super-secret, super-serious Jedi business. And, from a certain point of view, they’d be right.
Cody followed Obi-Wan out of the funeral and into the speeder they’d already had set aside for this. The funeral continued to drone on in the background, loud and definitely destined to last a long time.
They got in and sped towards the Senate.
It was more or less empty at the moment. All the Senators were either required to attend or were afraid it would make them look bad if they didn’t. There were just a few guards on duty, and most of them were vode.
Actually, most of them were from the Wolf Pack or the 501st, and many of those were sporting a brand new, freshly-healed scar on their temples. They nodded as they passed.
From there, the security was laughably easy to bypass, between a Marshall Commander and a Jedi. They got into the Chancellor’s office undetected.
Cody had been in there several times, and he knew Obi-Wan had visited even more often. People were in and out of the Senate all the time. If there was something here to find, it would be very well-hidden.
He, very maturely, avoided the urge to wipe his boots on the nice carpeting. They searched all through the office. Cody plugged a datastick into the databank terminal at the desk, and switched to watching the feed of the funeral through his HUD while the information downloaded. It was still being broadcast all over the holonet. Lines of clones stood solemnly, watching the ceremony. It was only the 212th that Cody could see were holding themselves in distinctly amused postures.
The datastick finished taking the information. Cody plugged it into one of the ports on his armor and sent it over to Tech, who was standing by. The kid could decrypt anything with a speed and enthusiasm that was a little scary.
Cody scanned around the office using the functions on his helmet. Obi-Wan appeared to be doing something similar using the Force, though of course it was always hard to tell with Jedi.
The walls of the Chancellor’s office were shielded against scanning. Cody wasn’t having much luck. But he heard Obi-Wan let out a small, polite sound of disgust, and he went over to see what his General had found.
It was a lightsaber. It definitely didn’t look like a Jedi one.
Sure enough, Obi-Wan thumbed the lightsaber on, and it emitted an evil red light. There was a second one still laying in the hidden cubby.
“Do you know what that means?” Cody said.
“It means that Chancellor Palpatine is, indeed, the Sith Lord,” Obi-Wan said gravely.
“Well, yes,” Cody said. “But it also means that he doesn’t have his weapon.”
Cody projected Waxer’s voice rather than keep it to his helmet, so Obi-Wan could join in on the conversation.
“Everything all right?” Waxer asked.
“So much as it can be,” Cody said. “Is it suspicious that you put on your helmet to talk to us?”
“Nah,” Waxer said, and Cody could hear the grin in his voice. “They think I’m trying to cover up my manful tears. This is the best funeral I’ve ever been to.”
“It’s the only funeral you’ve ever been to, stupid,” Boil’s voice came over the comms, butting in.
Before they could set off on a round of bickering, Obi-Wan interrupted, his mouth twitching upwards. “I’m sorry, but we are on a bit of a time constraint,” he said.
“What do you need us to do?” Waxer asked immediately.
“We’re working on concrete evidence,” Cody said. “But that might take a while, and you know the Chancellor will be able to wriggle out of most things short of a direct confession.”
“So here’s what we need you to do,” Obi-Wan said. “I think you’re going to like this one.”
He was right, of course.
They made use of the holoscreens in the Senate lobby to watch the funeral, which was still being televised extensively.
Waxer and Boil waited for their moment— Palpatine stepped back up to speak.
Then they stepped up to the floating microphone, together. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” Boil said. The crowd, looking interested, all zeroed in on them. “But we can’t stay silent on this any longer.”
“As Liob’s two closest friends—” Waxer said, which was, in a sense, true— “He entrusted only the two of us with some very secret information.”
The monitors caught Palpatine squinting at them suspiciously before schooling his face back into bland sympathy.
There was a wave of excited queries from the various reporters and holonews outlets. The only thing people liked better than a really tragic story was an exciting one.
Boil put a hand over his heart. “Senator Amidala was, in fact, only a secondary target of this assassination plot. The real intended victim was… Liob.”
Even through the holo, Cody could hear the satisfying wave of shocked gasps and exclamations from the crowd.
“It’s true,” Waxer said. “Liob had uncovered a major conspiracy of the war. Being the brave, kind—”
“Selfless,” Boil said.
“—yeah, selfless, man that he was, Liob decided to secretly launch an investigation.” Beside Cody, Obi-Wan had put a hand on his mouth, rubbing his chin. He was the picture of studious consternation, but Cody could see he was once again struggling not to laugh. Waxer had a very solemn look on his face, but in the background, Cody could see one of the brothers from the 212th putting on his helmet, presumably so he could smile as well.
“An investigation…” Boil said, drawing it out, “Into Chancellor Palpatine!” And he turned and spun, pointing an accusing finger at the Chancellor.
Cody knew he should have cracked down on the holosoaps being passed around the barracks. That had to have been where Waxer and Boil got their sense of the dramatic.
Palpatine looked comically surprised. “This is preposterous,” he sputtered. In all his carefully-laid Sith plans, he had certainly never imagined being accused of a crime he had not actually committed.
“Actually, I can confirm,” Amidala said, stepping up as if on cue. Obviously, she recognized that the plan had changed. How did someone so smart end up with someone like Skywalker, was what Cody wanted to know. “Liob had begun to ask me to investigate this topic. He was being very careful. Not saying much. Senior Commander Liob believed that Chancellor Palpatine was in fact masterminding the war, and was secretly supporting the Separatists.”
The word of two clones wasn’t worth that much, on the whole. But the word of a respected Senator— one who had in the past been a fairly staunch ally of Palpatine— well, that was something else.
“And before he could bring his findings public—” Padme said, putting a hand up to her mouth. “He—”
“Palpatine had him murdered!” Waxer said, with too much panache. He was clearly trying to top Boil’s last declaration. “And he tried to take Senator Amidala out too!”
The crowd was fairly in an uproar. Cody faintly regretted not being there— both because he wanted to see Palpatine’s face in person, but also because the clones out in force for the funeral would surely be needed to keep peace within the rest of the crowd. As usual, Waxer and Boil were taking things too far. He didn’t know what he expected from the two that had invented Liob in the first place. Possibly they were somehow harboring some resentment at Palpatine for killing him.
The cameras all swung to catch Chancellor Palpatine’s reaction. He had mostly pulled himself together by now, and was straightening his robes, clearly with some sort of new plan. Hopefully Tech would be done decoding the files soon.
“These accusations are, of course, unfounded,” Palpatine said, into one of the projectors that would throw his voice across the crowd. “Perhaps the clones and Miss Amidala are confused or uninformed. This, to me, seems to be a plot to undermine this funeral— the funeral of a most brave Republic soldier.”
Cody swore under his breath. If that hut’uun got away with this…
The closer members of the 212th had started to circle up around Palpatine, cutting off his escape routes.
The reporters closed in like Karkadon on the smell of blood, shouting questions and demands. But among the crowd, it was Kolvar that Cody recognized most.
She stepped forward, using the bulk of her shoulders to push through the holoreporters. She was looking at something on the small wrist comm the men had given to her, painted 212th yellow. Waxer and Boil had sent her something.
“Chancellor Palpatine!” she called, voice rising. “What about the accusations from the Jedi that you are a Sith Lord?”
The crowd stilled.
Palpatine’s eyes narrowed. He was caught. The troops were circling up around him, closer and closer.
“These accusations are ridiculous,” he said. “Troopers, take your malfunctioning brothers away. Execute Order—”
“Don’t try it,” said a voice, and once again, the cameras swung dramatically. It was Senator Amidala, pointing a blaster directly at his head. The blaster appeared to have once been part of her headpiece, cleverly concealed. He hadn’t let the clones get close, but he hadn’t been looking at Padme. A fatal mistake, if there ever was one.
Cody felt his lip curl with distaste. They had known Palpatine was behind Order 66, behind the control chips, but confirmation of it was something else. He was trying to get them to betray the Republic in front of the crowds— actually, the same thing the clones were doing to him.
Palpatine’s eyes widened. He looked around at the crowds, and Cody could see the mental kriff it in his eyes.
Before anyone could react, Palpatine spun and pushed out with his hands, sending troopers and politicians alike flying at the touch of the invisible force. Padme, experienced with the strange workings of Force users, had ducked low to the ground and popped back up with her blaster at the ready, unmoved.
Palpatine lashed out with the Force again and knocked the blaster away, skittering off the platform. He reached out his hands, fingers extended, and Cody felt a pulse of alarm as he saw blue electricity gathering there.
But then— Anakin.
Skywalker was there, lightsaber out. He cut off both of Palpatine’s hands.
The crowd, both in the Senate lobby, and at the funeral, went crazy. They had not, of course, run away, because most civilians had the life preservation instincts of a tooka, and reporters were even worse. They cheered, somewhat confused but also glad to see the clear bad guy losing.
“Stay away,” Skywalker said, “From my wife.”
Next to Cody, Obi-Wan put his face in his hands. “Dear Force.”
Then Skywalker paused, looking at the cameras. “Oh,” he said. “Whoops.”
The media firestorm after that incident was painful, but at least Cody didn’t have to deal with the Jedi Council. He thanked the Force for that every day, right after he thanked it for not assigning him to Skywalker.
Troop deployments were paused for a while, and, with a lot of the clones stuck on Coruscant, they took to hanging out in each other’s barracks, being rowdy and a little giddy about the Sith lord being found, but mostly bothering Cody.
“One of the shinies told me they’re going to weld a codpiece to Skywalker,” Leaffall said, gesturing at his own downstairs armor. “Do you think that’s true? Is that something the Jedi would do?”
“No way,” said Fox, with authority. “Have you met Vos? If they were going to do it to anyone, Vos would have already gotten one.”
There was a round of general agreements from the men.
“Can’t you discuss this somewhere else?” Cody asked, somewhat desperately. “I’m trying to do paperwork.”
Rex reached over and took Cody’s datapad out of his hands, then tossed it across the room. “Lighten up, vod,” he said. “Skywalker cut off the Chancellor’s hands. We’re not going to be doing anything for a while.”
“You won’t, maybe,” Cody said. “ Someone has to clean up after all of you.” There were a lot of incident reports to be filled out. 79’s had never seen so much action. Relatedly, neither had the Coruscant drunk tanks.
But besides that, things had been quiet. There were rumors that Skywalker was thinking of leaving the Jedi, apparently of his own volition. Rex had begun bets on the outcome— he swore that Amidala was pregnant, despite none of the other brothers being able to detect even a slight change in her size.
“Trust me, I’ve seen way, way too much of those two,” Rex had insisted. “She’s having a little Jetti .”
This made sense to Cody only in that if there was one Jedi who would break the Code so spectacularly, it would be Skywalker.
Anyway, even Cody could admit it was time for a break. He let the datapad lie where it fell.
“Fine,” Cody said, and his brothers cheered.
“Come on!” Hardcase said, tugging Cody to his feet and leading him further into the barracks. “Come play our newest game— Pin The Tail On The Sith.”
The boys had, apparently, blown up one of Kolvar’s holo-photos of Palpatine’s realization that he was well and truly kriffed at the public funeral. His face was blown up to several sizes. It was, possibly purposely, at the most unflattering and awkward angle that existed.
Someone, Paintbrush or maybe Rainbow, had painted devil horns and cartoonishly angry eyebrows on top of the print.
“Let me guess,” Cody said, as Kix, who was too excited for a medic who was handling sharp objects, handed him several knives. Unfortunately, Cody already knew too well the minds of his brothers. “It’s one point for the face, two points for the eyes, and three if you get a knife up his nose?”
“He doesn’t need explaining at all!” Rex said proudly, and bumped his shoulders. “Now let’s see if you can break my record.”
Cody scoffed. “Please,” he said. “Any 212th soldier could beat a 501st with our eyes closed.”
A round of cheers and heckles rose from the crowds of brothers, and Cody grinned for a moment, happier than he could express to see his vode cheerful and alive.
He looked at Rex and saw the same feeling reflected there.
“Oh,” Rex said, with humor, “You’re on.”
Cody was mildly hungover when he got the summons to come to the Senate. The vod, to a company, each had their own unique brand of truly horrible home-brewed hooch, and they’d all brought it to the impromptu celebrations in the barracks.
Luckily, each squadron also had their own version of a tried-and-true hangover remedy, and Cody had downed at least three and was feeling at the very least alert when he got to the Senate.
They were supposed to meet with Mon Mothma, who was set to be the interim Chancellor until the absolute mess with Skywalker, the clones, and the Jedi could be figured out. Cody met with Obi-Wan in the turbolift going up.
Cody was wearing his helmet, and was standing perfectly to attention; but Obi-Wan took one look at him, smirked, and asked, “Fun night, Commander?”
“Not sure what you’re talking about, sir,” Cody said.
“Ah, yes. My mistake.”
“No one should apologize while sounding that smug,” Cody said. “Or being that loud.”
Obi-Wan smiled. “I am sorry you had to come in today— I know that you were supposed to have today off. I don’t know what this meeting is about either.”
“How are things going at the Temple?” Cody asked.
“Still in an uproar,” Obi-Wan said. “The Council is unpleased with the way some events transpired. Our ex-Chancellor is still in the cells beneath the Temple. We think we’ve found sufficient evidence that he was in fact a Sith.” He sighed tiredly. “We did manage to get permission to sweep for the rest of the clones whose chips have not yet been removed, and get them to surgery should they so wish it.”
“That’s good news,” Cody said, and the doors swished open.
It was into the hallway outside of Mothma’s chambers, and Cody raised an eyebrow upon seeing Betta Kolvar waiting outside of them.
She waved cheerfully when she saw them. She looked good. Rumor had it that every publication from Coruscant Daily News to CoruGossip were lobbying to get her on their staff. Her photos were selling like crazy, and Cody thought he had seen that one or two of her war holos were up for awards.
“Ma’am,” Cody greeted her. “I didn’t know you would be here.”
“Me either,” Kolvar said. “It seems this was all very sudden.”
“I wonder what this is about,” Obi-Wan said. “How have you been?”
Kolvar had a distinctly smug look to her face. “The Senate ethics committee wants to speak to me about what I’ve witnessed as an outside observer during the war— so far as I know, they’re quite upset at the realities that my holos have caught on film. Not to mention that people keep calling me to see if I can get a picture of General Skywalker in his underwear. My editors are going crazy. They finally agreed to let me go back out into the field again.”
“Really?” Cody asked. “Why would you want to do that?”
“I’m going to document the relief efforts. All the politicians involved are, I’m sure you can imagine, very pleased that someone is going to be along to ensure accountability in all areas.”
“You’re much more evil than I thought, Ma’am,” Cody said.
“Why, thank you, Commander,” Kolvar said, looking pleased.
The door swished open, and a young staffer, one of Mon Mothma’s, Cody thought, stuck his head out. “They’re ready for you,” he said. “Thank you for your patience.”
“It was no trouble,” Obi-Wan said, smiling kindly at him.
The sight that greeted them inside would have normally been much more daunting, but ever since Skywalker had cut off both of a politician's limbs on live broadcast, Cody had gone through worried and come out the other side completely indifferent. Or maybe he had reached that point when he had first met his first Jedi. Anyway.
All the top politicians of the Republic were gathered in Mothma's office, plus the higher-ups of the Jedi Council. General Yoda was there, and General Windu, and General Ti, which was interesting. She had been spending most of her time since… everything went down working with senators such as Senator Organa, arranging it so that the clones were still being paid and guaranteeing that they would have rights to live on Coruscant even if the war was over now.
Cody was pleased to see that many of Palpatine’s top advisors had not been invited to this meeting, though there was still a large presence of the kind of politicians that made Obi-Wan call them politicians in that certain tone of voice.
“Welcome,” Mon Mothma said, gesturing them in from behind her desk. She looked a little harried, though everyone did these days. “We appreciate you all coming on such short notice.”
“What is this about?” Obi-Wan asked.
Cody gave the gathered politicians a neutral glance, scoping out the room. Generally a positive look. No obvious threats.
“It’s about Marshall Commander Liob,” said Mothma.
“Oh?” Obi-Wan asked, purposefully bland.
Cody winced within his bucket. Oh, kriff. They’d been found out. It was obviously destined to happen eventually, but he’d been hoping to put it off until he could blame Skywalker for it somehow, or at least be old and grey and hobbling around with a cane.
“Yes,” said Mace Windu. “We do not feel that the rank of Marshall Commander is high enough.”
“Oh?” said Cody.
“We’d like to raise a special moratorium allowing clones to reach the rank of General,” Mon Mothma said. “And give the title to Liob posthumously.”
“Oh, how nice,” Kolvar said. “That’s— ehm— that’s great.”
“Is there an issue?” asked Senator Tills.
“No, that’s really great,” Kolvar said, and a hint of her smile broke through. At least she had managed to swallow the laugh. “I’m sure the men will be very happy to hear that.”
Extremely ecstatic, actually. Cody didn’t even want to think about how proud Waxer and Boil would be. He had a feeling there would be tears involved.
“Yessir,” Cody confirmed. “Liob is an inspiration to us all.”
Not to mention that Obi-Wan had been trying to transcript Cody to rising up in the ranks for years; Marshall Commander was Cody’s rank, and the highest a clone could currently go. Cody had the feeling he was going to be getting a promotion soon as well.
“Indeed,” said General Ti, smiling.
“CT6969 deserves the highest honors,” said Senator Chuchi. “We are glad to give it to him.”
“General Liob,” Obi-Wan said. “Wow. Interesting.”
“Indeed!” a Senator said, excited, and then it was off to less formal things, excited chattering and talking. With the war at an end, everyone was much more relaxed these days, excited and a little giddy. They devolved into talking amongst themselves, of affairs to come and a possible ceremony for Liob.
In the chaos, Cody slipped out the door, and was unsurprised when Obi-Wan and Kolvar followed.
They made it all the way to the elevator. Cody took his helmet off and held it neatly at his side, staring in front of him in perfect parade rest. Even the harshest of trainers couldn’t have found fault with this.
“Oh dear,” Obi-Wan said, at last, to the silence of the elevator.
A laugh burst out of Cody.
That set off Obi-Wan, and Kolvar, giggling until they were all practically hysterical.
“A true war hero,” Cody said. “Something to sing about.”
“I’ll tell my grandchildren I met him,” Kolvar said, her fur puffed all the way around her head in amusement.
“I really can’t believe this,” Obi-Wan said, smiling bigger and brighter than possibly Cody had ever seen him. The war ending had really taken a weight from all of them. Ventress had killed Dooku last week, and Commander Tano had told Cody the Force felt lighter as of late. “I really can’t believe this.”
“So we take this secret to our graves, yes?” Cody said.
“Oh, yes, of course,” Obi-Wan said.
“Absolutely,” Kolvar said. “That’s a given.”
They exchanged one last hysterical, disbelieving glance, then the turbolift doors opened. By the time they did, they had each schooled their expressions once more, betraying nothing more than thoughtful solemnity.
They stepped out into the hustle and bustle of Coruscant.
Cody couldn’t wait to tell his brothers about this.