“Commander Cody, the transport ship has contacted us and is descending through the atmosphere.” The Stormtrooper said from the doorway to my office. I was adjusting my uniform in front of a mirror.
“Very good. How many new prisoners are on board?”
“Three, and a new maintenance prisoner, transferred from a facility on Ragoon.”
“Alright, Sergeant, let’s go down to meet them.” I put on my hat and the security officer followed me with a detachment. They all wore white Stormtrooper armor. There were regulations in place preventing modification or decoration of the armor and Stormtroopers barely had any insignia of rank beyond those cheap-looking little shoulder patches. Back in my day, our clone armor was expensive, state-of-the-art equipment developed in the weapons factories the Kaminoans had under the oceans. Weapons research and development was paid for by the Republic in the years leading up to the Clone War. The Kaminoans really made a killing on that whole mess. Still, we clones knew how to wear armor. We decorated and personalized each plate, every scar on it told a story. We were proud to wear it. This Stormtrooper armor was real cheap looking junk. Nothing to be proud of. Those plates could barely withstand a scratch. Forget deflecting blaster fire, I think it actually attracted it. And when guys wore that armor, to tell the truth, it was hard to tell them apart. That was the idea, I guess.
I walked out onto the platform and waited for the ship to descend through the clouds. The prison mine that was under my command was built into the side of a cliff over a steep ravine with a landing platform extending out from the entrance. The facility was carved into the living rock as a series of tunnels and chambers near the cliff and a single shaft extending deep into the rock, down into the exonium deposits.
The red ray shield around the entrance and platform lowered. I could see some of the native bird species circling above the mountains in the distance. It was near dawn, but the humidity was already intense. I was sweating in my uniform. Rishi was a jungle world, so the climate was usually uncomfortable outside. Inside the rock chambers, it was cooler. Always being inside, in artificial light and recirculated air, meant that going outside could give you a headache. Or maybe that was just my hangover. It rained a lot, so sometimes it reminded me of home.
The ship landed and the guards escorted the passengers down the ramp. They all had binders on and wore the standard orange jumpsuits, three men and a woman. I barely looked at them.
The men weren’t worth a glance, I knew what they looked like. It was a deep space military prison, so all of the men would be Fett clones, like me. I knew that face well enough. Those of us who were left were still in the army, mostly working as Stormtroopers. Those of us who’d been officers were given undesirable postings like this, supervising imprisoned laborers as they worked themselves to death. Some of us were killed in the Jedi purge. Some others died in skirmishes after the war. Others, a lot of others, just went home one day and wrapped their mouths around the business end of a blaster. After our trials following the Jedi purge, I had actually found my brother Bly slumped next to his bunk at Central Command, the back half of his skull sprayed against the wall.
The natural born military that they’d started recruiting after the war didn’t get sent to this particular facility. The Empire didn’t want us clones mixing with regular people, even in jail. Typical. The Republic had barely let us intermingle with its citizens when we were defending them from the Separatists, so why would the damned Empire act any different? They didn’t even want us around their murderers and rapists. So they put us out here, in as dark a corner of the universe as possible. As usual, the message was clear. We were something to hide away. They were ashamed of us.
The worst of my brothers were arrested for all manner of things. After the war, many of us couldn’t take the stress, from what we’d done in the Jedi purge and from how much people hated us for it. We turned into the vicious, violent creatures they’d bred us to be. This facility was for serious crimes. We had guys who were picked up for murder or attacking people. We had guys who were found working as bounty hunters, murderers for hire. We had guys who were picked up for going AWOL, running like cowards. I hated to see my brothers debase themselves. Didn’t any of them have any pride or dignity? I would ask about their loyalty, but even I barely believed in that any more. Even the nicest of us made fun of ourselves for being garbage. The meanest turned their self-loathing on society. What had we become?
The men were sent here because, even though the Empire wanted them separated from society, there was no sense wasting available labor. They’d already paid for us, after all. The Kaminoans had felt that way too. We had all had to work to maintain the cloning facility, Tipoca City, while we lived there. Cleaning mostly. The Empire refitted this exonium mine from the war into a prison. Since mining was a dangerous job, they did not want to waste more valuable people. We clones had never meant anything to them anyway, so the Empire got its fuel, at minimum risk and expense. There were instances of my brothers leaving the prison. They were not released, per se. No one ever finished a sentence. But the Empire would call sometimes for labor for more dangerous jobs elsewhere, or might need some trained military for what would positively be a suicide mission. The offer was always a reduced sentence. None of them ever came back.
The woman with my brothers was a prisoner as well. Like I said, the Empire didn’t want to waste able bodies, droids were expensive. We needed people to cook our meals, clean the facility, wash our laundry. Duties considered too light for clones. Hence, they sent us women from the prison maintenance corps. The women had their own rooms on the premises where they were guarded by droids controlled by a remote. Women had always been trouble, in my experience. They got my brothers riled up. Therefore, as I requested, most of the women they sent here weren’t anything much to look at. Incompatible or unattractive species only. We had a lot of Weequay. Some Aqualish. A Dressellian. A Shistavanen. Even a Hutt once. Most of those girls scared my brothers half to death. Hell, they scared me. I was surprised, though. This one was going to be a problem. She was human. Well, I thought, she must have really made somebody mad for them to send her out here. Somebody was feeling downright sadistic. Maybe she’d pulled off some high level assassination. She might be interesting to talk to, I thought. If it was true, I had a list of Imperial politicians and military personnel that I hoped she’d killed.
I spoke briefly with the pilot and supervised the unloading of the supplies that the ship had brought. They handed me the dispatches and the things I had requested personally from off world. As the warden commander, I could obtain small luxuries. I had my whiskey delivered by the crate load. There was nothing much to do in my spare time but drink, so, since I was already an enthusiastic alcoholic, I spent a lot of time honing my skills. The Tevraki whiskey was my favorite, but I took whatever I could get. They brought me data files, so I had something to read. All Imperial literature. It was godawful. Most of the time, I felt like I was a prisoner, too.
I watched the inmates march by and stopped short when I looked at the woman’s face. I knew her from somewhere. I just couldn’t remember where. Her hair was under a scarf, which was gray. But the eyes I knew, they were large and blue, fringed with dark lashes. She hadn’t seen me. I filed it away as a thing to be pursued later. The day was just beginning, and I had a lot to do.
My days were typically started by taking a contingent of guards to the inmates’ barracks. I would march in, in full uniform with the guards behind me. The uniform I wore was gray cloth these days, since I worked for the Imperial Security Bureau. I hadn’t worn armor in years. I liked to stand in my uniform to make sure the inmates could see me. Standing with my hands behind my back, I struck a pose that was proud, strong, and dignified. Everything they could have been if they’d made other choices. I stood there again at night to be the last thing they saw before lights out.
In the mornings, the guards in their Stormtrooper armor would call everyone out of their cells and march them to the changing rooms to get equipped for the mine. No talking allowed. The inmates would change and be marched to the lifts where they would descend into the mine shaft, into the dark.
The guards were with the prisoners all day and only went off duty to sleep. Most of them put in for a transfer the minute they were given this posting. We had a high turnover, I never had any time to get to know anybody. The guards were both clone and natural born and were some of the stupidest people I had ever had the misfortune to be stuck with. The clones were late batchers coming out of Kamino at the end of the war. Quality control at the cloning facility had really slipped by then. The natural borns, well, I don’t know where they found them, probably yokels from Outer Rim planets who had never been off their parents’ farms. I was constantly rubbing my forehead in distress when I spoke to them. All the more reason to drink.
I did get a reprieve. It was quiet during the days. The prisoners and guards stayed underground until the work day was through. The men were fed their first two meals of the day underground because the trip on the lift took an hour. Dinner was served in the cells before lights out. While the men were working, the maintenance prisoners would come and clean the facility. The droids would take the ‘ladies’ back to their cells when I programmed them to. I didn’t circulate with them much, as I said, they scared me.
I spent much of my day monitoring the facility from the command center, air quality levels and the like. I made sure we achieved our fuel quota. It wasn’t difficult, the Empire had low expectations of a clone run facility. I supervised equipment maintenance. I checked efficiency and made adjustments to the different systems. It was a busy job and there were no other administrators. It’s ironic, actually. My best brother Rex and I used to joke so much about how much we hated the paperwork aspect of command. Now, it was practically my whole job. I had always been intelligent and an avid learner. This job was not even slightly challenging or interesting. It was mind numbing. This was my own private hell.
During the Clone War, I was the only commander for the the chief strategist and director of the Outer Rim campaign, the heaviest combat of the war. I personally was the chief architect of the Grand Army of the Republic. General Obi-Wan Kenobi and I led the 212th Battalion and we won some of the most spectacular engagements of the war. I was one of the most visible soldiers on the news reports. We, along with General Skywalker and my brother Captain Rex, fought in the greatest battles and faced the most notorious foes. And now I was here.
General Kenobi had been a huge proponent of the clone army and the usefulness of Jedi-Clone assisted combat in future engagements. He spoke out about its effectiveness to politician after politician at those awful Senatorial banquets, in the hopes of guaranteeing us clones a future. He brought me and some of my guys along sometimes to work security. He was charming and genteel, he thought he could persuade the politicians to see us as useful. It never worked. Those senators just stared at me and my brothers as if they were appreciating prizewinning guarlara or something. We were things to be admired as fine specimens of breeding but they still considered us animals, to be owned and used. It started to feel like Kenobi saw me that way, sometimes.
I was never invited to eat at the table with them because it would have been illegal. Clones were not allowed to eat anything not issued to them by the government. The Republic Nutrition Rations we all ate were worse than pet food. But I would stand there at those banquets and watch them eat, ostensibly there to keep them safe. It was quite the little metaphor. It was funny, actually, after the war, with the recruitment of natural born humans to the Stormtrooper corps, clones could not be separated out conveniently, so the military food rations actually got better. Not by much, though.
These days, I usually ate my lunch and dinner in my office. My apartment was behind the office. Just a few rooms. But for a clone who slept in a drawer for the first ten years of his life, it was downright spacious. I would have my lunch and read, and drink, and then go back to work. For dinner, I’d start drinking before it arrived, then eat, then drink until I passed out. Not much else to it. I usually slept through breakfast.
I went to the cafeteria once work started the first day after the new prisoners’ arrival. I told the staff that my lunch should be delivered by the new girl, that I’d like to get to know her. The other women who ran the kitchens understood it to mean that I had ill intentions, but they complied. Better her than them, they thought. The old stereotype was that all clones were sexual predators. This is something people find absolutely laughable if they know us. I never once met a brother who had ever touched a girl without her initiating it, we really can't. Remnants of our old combat conditioning, I guess, stand your ground and await orders.
In truth, it wasn’t like that. I hadn’t always been the nicest guy to women in the past, I’ll admit. Under the Military Creation Act, we were not permitted to have personal relationships with civilians. Most of the girls that were available to us clones had been professional girls and I’d had a low opinion of them. I found it offensive that they debased themselves for money and I found it offensive that they were the only girls I could get. I used them and I wasn’t nice about it. It is one of my many, many regrets. I didn’t have to be cruel, but at the time, being mean made me feel a little bit better.
Having a lot of time alone on Rishi, though, I’d had time to think. I knew what memories made me happy and what ones made me feel ashamed. In my early life, I had been proud. I was the best of my brothers. I had authority and respect because I was someone who did things my brothers admired. I was smart, I was strong, I was a good leader. I considered myself to have dignity, to be worthy of things.
Then, practically as soon as we left Kamino, my brothers and I were treated like objects. I knew I deserved better than the way I was treated. I looked down on brothers who I believed shamed me when they behaved badly. My brother Wolffe was my constant tormentor in this regard. Then, the angrier I got, the more I found myself behaving in a way contrary to the image I had of myself. I made excuses. I blamed women. I blamed lack of opportunities. I blamed the symptoms, not the cause. Then I debased myself groveling before the powers of the Empire. They used me for everything they could get and as soon as I was no longer useful, they cast me off here, exiled me to this wretched place, where every day I was faced with evidence that we clones were monsters. I promised myself when I got to Rishi that I would prove everyone was wrong about us, even if nobody was there to see it except the criminals, madmen, cowards, and idiots. I tried to be someone I could be proud of. It wasn’t easy.
I had always been pretty judgmental, yet I didn’t feel like I had a right to judge people much anymore, considering the pathetic end I’d come to. My brother Wolffe had been a mess, but he was never judgmental of anyone. When I built my battalion, I had taken only the top academy graduates. Wolffe took everyone out of the bottom of the class and let batch mates stay together so they had someone to hold their hand as they came along. When he was reported MIA after the Siege of Cato Nemoidia, every brother in 79's that night toasted him. He spent all his time with the most prolific whore on Coruscant and he doted on her like a loyal servant. At the time, I thought he was stupid, letting someone get one over on him. But after he went MIA, I saw her. She was pretty inconsolable. At least somebody cared that he was gone. By the time I left Coruscant, my ambition had caused me to turn on every friend I had, just to please Tarkin and the Emperor. When they sent me here, I didn’t have anyone left to care. Most people were laughing.
So despite what the kitchen staff thought, I had no intention of raping anyone on my desk. In truth, although the stereotype is that we clones are all aggressive and hyper-sexual, rapes committed by clones were so rare as to be non-existent. Women still scare the shit out of us. Anyway, after all the whores, I was tired of having people who didn’t like me, never mind want me. I just thought that it’d be nice to have some company and maybe some more stimulating conversation than "You seen that new VT-15?" "Yeah, some of the other guys were telling me about it. They say it's… it's quite a thing to see…". Man, I hate Stormtroopers. I was lonely.
The new girl brought in the tray and set it down on my desk. She looked young, not even thirty. I was twenty-one, but I looked like a guy in his fifties. We clones were engineered to age rapidly, but life had taken its toll as well. She put down the tray on my desk and looked up, suddenly startled when she saw me, but didn’t say anything. She waited a few moments, looking tense. Then she turned to go, so I finally worked up the courage to attempt to speak to her, “Thank you.”
“Um…you’re welcome?” She looked confused and shrugged. Then she turned again.
“What is the meal today?” I tried small talk.
She turned back. “I think it’s grilled aiwha? At least, that’s what it’s labeled on the crate of frozen rations.”
“Well, you never can tell these days. All those carbon frozen rations look the same. It wouldn’t taste like the fresh ones anyway.” We’d had aiwha at the commissary in Tipoca City when I was growing up on Kamino. They were one of my favorite foods.
I tried a smile to see if I could get her to loosen up. Then a joke. “I would say that it’s better than Republic Nutrition Rations, but I wonder sometimes if those frozen little bricks are actually made of aged RNR. Waste not want not in this Empire.”
Not even a smile. Too bad the only jokes I knew were clone jokes. Clone humor can be peculiar to outsiders. And I was really bad at talking to women. We clones were notorious for saying idiotic things when we got nervous around them. Wolffe used to compile a list on his old player pod device of the stupid quotes brothers had said to the whores from 79’s, the clone bar. That list was hilarious.
The woman stood still and folded her arms in front of her, looking down at the floor. I still could not recall where I had seen her before. It was frustrating, because I didn’t actually know that many women. I was sure she was not one of the whores from 79’s. Maybe someone I’d met on campaign? It was driving me crazy. I hoped that she wasn’t someone I’d hurt in the past. I used to get blackout drunk a lot in the later days of the war. I could get violent. I was not really prepared to have someone contribute to the already low opinion I had of my past behavior.
I remained polite. I always did those days. General Kenobi had been a great example of how to behave as a gentleman. “I’m sorry, I just have the strangest feeling I know you. Have we met before?”
“You really don’t remember?” She looked up finally.
“Um, no.” We clones all look alike, but my facial scars were distinctive. She would remember meeting me. But it wasn’t really fair, she was out of context for me.
She reached up and undid the neck of the jumpsuit. For a fraction of a second, I thought that things were about to take an unexpected turn. Women got lonely in prison, too, I guessed. Then the collar opened to reveal a tattoo on her neck of a pair of Mandalorian jaig eyes and a thin chain made of some kind of steel with a bluish tint. I suddenly realized that I had seen one like it.
“Of course. You’re Lina. You…you were my brother Rex’s girlfriend, weren’t you?” I had only met her after she left him. I knew that girls who dated clones were persecuted and subjected to ridicule, so I wasn’t surprised she left. The chain, however, did surprise me, I had seen him wearing it. He’d only had it made after I thought they’d ended things.
“Hello, Cody.” She did up her collar and smirked. "How have you been?"
Lina was a girl from Coruscant that Rex had met on leave. Having seen my brother after he met her, I knew that he was already in love. I worried he might do something stupid and forget his duty to the Republic, so I reported him to the army. When asked by the Chancellor about how to deal with the situation, I recommended that Rex get no leave time for a while. I was sure she’d lose interest. He didn’t get any personal time for a year and went through some of the most stressful missions of the war. By the time he saw the light of day, Lina was already married. Yet, he had apparently still cared enough to see her after that. She apparently still cared enough to wear a remembrance of him.
I was already haunted by what had happened to them, I had thought I was doing the right thing at the time, but I’d always felt bad about it. Now here she was, placing my sins before my door. Worse, she still had no idea what I’d done.
I beckoned her to sit. She complied, but reluctantly, and didn’t look at me. I never had any idea what had happened to her after she and Rex broke up.
“How did you get here?” She asked me finally. “Last time I saw you, you were being honored by the Emperor and lecturing at universities.”
“Well, to tell you honestly, I was exiled here in disgrace.”
I waited for her to laugh. Everyone else had been laughing when they heard. She actually looked surprised, her eyes opened wider. But not with any schadenfreude, her mouth opened slightly and she was almost smiling. “You finally fought back?”
I had always enjoyed teaching. Back in Tipoca City, I had even taught Republic Loyalty classes by my last couple of years there. After the Clone War, I did what I’d always dreamed. I had written a work of literature. I was invited to various universities to speak on my military experiences and my opinions on the future of warfare. The book was called ‘Mediation on Power- Commander Cody’s Maxims on Military Philosophy’. Based on the famous ‘Maxims of Mandalorian Besk Finn.’ I wrote my meditations in Basic, the language of the Republic I served. It was a statement of loyalty.
I could have written it in Mando’a, I was extremely fluent. I had planned on translating it when I had the time. I gave frequent guest lectures, I was billed as a scholarly expert on clone culture. I’d explain our dialect of Mando’a that we had developed while training under Mandalorian warriors at the Clone Academy. Mandalorian speakers, Imperial plants mostly, would ask me questions about Mando’a and I’d answer in the language. The audience could see how well I spoke. I thought that people would respect my intelligence and that I knew what I was talking about, I really did.
I wrote my work in perfect imitation of Mandalorian literary structure. I hoped the Mandalorians would respect how well I knew them, how well I represented them as a proud descendant keeping their traditions alive. I had dreamed of being accepted as a Mandalorian my whole life, since being trained by their warriors in Tipoca.
I dedicated the book to my friend Jar Jar Binks, the Minister of Defense for the Empire. He had been a war veteran himself and the creator of the Grand Army of the Republic. His Military Creation Act, that he'd co-sponsored with the Chancellor, was like a religious text that we were forced to adhere to. I had carried a copy of it at all times during the war to prove my unfailing loyalty to the Republic. The MCA, or Binks-Palpatine, had been the reason we clones were called to service. Privately, I knew the Minister was a complete idiot, but my gratefulness to the Empire was conveyed by the dedication.
I did everything perfectly. I was proving to be more politically astute than my natural born colleagues. Clones were supposed to be violent cretins, fit only to serve, but I was proving to be a formidable human being. My book was taught in Imperial schools. I continued to craft my public persona. The Empire had plans for me, they said.
I was a rising star in the Imperial military after the end of the war. No other clone had ever received such fame or secular power. I was named a Deputy Secretary of the Armed Forces. I was finally in a position to do everything I had always dreamed of. I fought for us clones, I tried to do right. But I was thwarted and blocked at every turn by the natural borns in the military brass, who didn’t have one tenth my actual combat experience. Nobody listened to me. They treated me as naturally inferior because of what I was and I could never change my face. I had the face of those jar-born half-men that had turned one day and slaughtered their own leaders. There were those rumors that we had mind control chips that had made us do it, but nobody believed it. We clones were regarded as untrustworthy.
Nobody believed the Empire’s version of events either, that we had been loyal to the Republic and the Jedi had been the enemies. There were rallies at universities where I would go, students would protest against me, saying I was a war criminal and that I should be put on trial again. The Jedi had been inspiring heroes with superhuman powers, we clones were mindless empty armor, lab-bred creatures that shamed the human race.
Next, the army asked me to spy on my brothers. I had to investigate and inform on military personnel who weren’t loyal. I got quite a few of my brothers jailed. I was sure some of them were executed without charges ever being filed. I witnessed some of these executions, standing beside Secret Military Police as they carried them out. I stood still and did nothing. The old combat conditioning still worked. Stand your ground and await orders. Some of the men were good brothers who were only being loyal to other clones. We’d always had a code against ratting on each other. It was one of the first features that ever developed in clone culture in Tipoca. I felt like I had given up even the most fundamental parts of myself for the Empire. That Karkarodon Tarkin gave me a goddamn quota for the number of guys I had to report every month.
Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided that I didn’t really belong to the Empire. I had only ever been accepted by my brothers, they were the only ones who had never rejected me. I wanted to be loyal to them again. I tried to warn brothers that they were under suspicion, give them a chance to run before they were arrested. A few too many got away. Eventually the Empire discovered that I had withheld information. When I was put on unpaid leave, everyone could tell I was on my way out. I couldn’t even go into clone establishments like 79’s, I’d have been beaten to a bloody pulp. My brothers didn’t trust me by then, since I had investigated so many of them.
The Empire then decided I wasn’t useful to them anymore. They demoted me and sent me here to Rishi. I was still free labor, after all. Now I saw brothers every day, just like I had growing up in Tipoca, but here, everyone hated me because I was the warden. I hated them because they were scum and it was like looking in a mirror.
“You’re probably laughing at me, I finally got what I deserved,” I said to Lina as I sat back in my chair.
“I’m not laughing at you Cody. I never would. I know about the things you did, killing Obi-Wan, testifying against the Jedi. But I know that wasn’t your fault. I also remember you as the man Rex described. The good brother, the brilliant leader, the brave warrior. That was a man I liked. We only met once, but I liked you then too. You wanted to help me, I remember?” Lina had softened considerably since she knew about my fall from grace in the Empire.
I had met her once and I did offer to help her with some police harassment. Because I thought she was cute. I liked her, too. Some normal girl standing up to the Republic for us. I never knew anyone besides the Jedi who did that. I never did help her, though. When I recognized she had been Rex’s girl, I realized what I’d done to her, that the police harassment was probably my fault. I couldn’t face her after that.
I noticed that I still hadn’t touched my lunch. Lina made to go, once I had taken the first bite of what was a positively awful slab of frozen aiwha, warmed to rubbery perfection by Shizla, the most vicious cannibal Weequay pirate the Empire had ever arrested. That woman terrified me. And I was the Tipoca City champion of mixed form combat. But in a fight even I wouldn’t take an actual bite out of your shoulder and eat it in front of you.
“So why are you here?” I asked after I had swallowed the bite, before Lina had made it to the door.
She sat back down slowly, tentatively. She was a little more on guard than she had been before. “Well,” she said slowly, probably trying to think of where to start, “I was with Rex. You knew that, he must have told you.”
I swallowed another horrible bite, “No. Rex was a really private brother. None of us met you on purpose, his brothers, I mean. We just didn’t have that many places we could go to eat or drink on Coruscant, so we went to your restaurant. But he hadn’t ever sent us there.” She had owned a place where we could eat, even though any food but government rations were technically illegal for us clones. She just didn't care.
“Really? Nobody knew?”
“Well, General Skywalker, maybe.”
“I grew up with Anakin. He introduced Rex and me.” That made sense, that guy considered it his mission in life to make his outfit, the 501st the most laid battalion in the army. I think they were, too. “I let him stay with me for one night, then a week a little while later before you guys had that mission to the Citadel. I was proud, I wanted people to see us together, a famous soldier like that. But he said it was a bad idea to be public about it. After he had been there, my entire neighborhood shunned me. Probably smart of Rex to not talk about it. Fewer consequences.”
“Oh, he had consequences.”
She looked at me as if asking what I meant by it. I found I didn’t want to explain it, so I stayed quiet and ate my horrible food.
She went on, finally, “I didn’t care what anybody thought. When I was with him, I was only with him. We even talked about a future together. Not a ton, we only had a week, but it was all spent at home, we talked all the time. You know, just the silly daydreaming you do when you’re happy.” She was almost laughing, “He had this crazy idea that maybe some of the defective clones from Tipoca should be put up for adoption instead of put to work in the facility or euthanized, and he wanted us to offer to care for them since clones can’t have children. He was so idealistic it seemed almost childish. I had never met anyone so honest and good hearted, he made me feel that way, too. We planned to see each other whenever we could. After the Citadel mission, he called me from a public com station near the base. He said he wasn’t going to be able to make it back, but that he would see me the next time he had leave. I was just glad he was alive.
“Then the clones started to come in. The first two, Mortar and Vin had seen him in there before the Citadel and had been so flattered that Rex talked to them. They kept coming back and bringing other guys. More showed up. I took pictures to learn their faces and names. It was hard, but they liked that I was trying. Some asked me out, I always said I had a boyfriend.
“Except that around my neighborhood, people already knew me as something of an easy girl. I had gotten around in my teens, I admit. It was an immigrant neighborhood. People were conservative. They had seen me with Rex, and then the guys hanging around. They decided I’d become a cheap party girl. Never mind that the worst Rex and I had ever done in front of them was walking down the street like any other couple, hand in hand. Nothing scandalous. My former friends acted awkward when they talked to me, so I stopped trying. All I had was the guys.
“Then one day, the harassment started by the police. My neighbors were calling them on me. They fined me for serving clones, your brothers paid it. Next, the Military Secret Police showed up.”
That part had definitely been my fault.
“They found me at night when I was closing, five men in uniform. They asked me if I knew CT-7567. I said I did, I was afraid he was dead. They said that I would not be seeing Rex any more. If I tried to tell him why, it might make him do something stupid like disobey and they would have to arrest him. They could have arrested him for what he’d already done with me, they said. I told them we had powerful friends, Anakin was always talking to the Chancellor back then. I said that I wouldn’t leave Rex. So they filed a charge of ‘misuse of military property’ and told me that they would try me if they ever found out I saw him again. Then my windows were broken and the place was smashed up a bit the next night. I tried to report it to the civilian police, but they didn’t care, everyone knew what kind of girl I was.
“I was drinking a lot after that and I didn’t care who saw it. I never drank with your brothers because I didn’t want them arrested for it. And I couldn’t go to 79’s. The only women the owners let in were prostitutes. So, that’s how I met Grady. He walked me home one night and I woke up next to him. I thought I might be able to explain it to Rex if he ever came back. But he didn’t. Then I found out I was pregnant. Grady and I got married. Anakin found out, so he came in to tell me off one day for being unfaithful to Rex. I lost my friend.
“I was finally arrested for supposedly running an illegal brothel for clones. With so many guys at the restaurant, they figured I had to be servicing them. I was out of jail in a few days when they dropped the charges. They had no proof, but they just wanted to humiliate me. Grady walked out. He came back a while after my daughter was born, but I wasn’t sure I was happy about it.
“I thought, you clones didn’t have anybody else, so I kept breaking the law. The more I was told to stay away from you guys, the more and more certain I felt that enough was enough. Someone had to treat you like family. Someone had to say that you clones were ours. When my daughter was born, the kid spent most of the time with me in the restaurant. I let the boys name her.”
“Oh dear, what did they come up with?” I laughed, finishing my unidentifiable vegetable side to the meal. The silly nicknames we used to come up with for each other were bad enough.
“Anything from Flowerpot to Oatmeal. They had never named a girl before, they were just saying things they liked. Finally, somebody, actually your guy Boil I think, said we should call her Alis, which are apparently these little glowing blue fish on Kamino. She had blue eyes. So that’s what I named her. I figured nobody but clones would recognize it.
“Then came the Jedi purge, lots of clones were taken away to testify in the Jedi trials.”
Like me. Those of us who testified were ones who had participated in the mutinies and executions of the Jedi Generals at the end of the war. But most clones actually had not done anything. The battalions were huge. On any battlefield, clones outnumbered the Jedi by the hundreds of thousands. The execution of Order 66 was actually committed by just a few of us per battalion. The control chips were actually only activated for a few minutes until the Jedi were dispatched. Everything we did afterwards was to cover for what we'd done. I heard my brothers Grey and Styles hunted down this padawan for over a year. We could not allow witnesses to contradict our version of the story. Most officers dealt with it like I did. We ordered our men to back us up once the Jedi were dead. We said that they had announced an intended Jedi coup of the Republic. We had been defending our true masters. Pledging our loyalty. We few who had participated in Order 66 then obeyed the leader of the Republic, then Empire. We said what he wanted us to. We all stood together in our lie. It was the only way for us to save ourselves from the firing squads. No clone ever openly disputed the lie. Never rat on a brother. That was clone law.
“Most guys hadn’t harmed the Jedi. But everyone in the Empire hated all clones. They didn’t believe what the Republic was saying. So as soon as clones first appeared in Stormtrooper armor, the hostility got worse, for your brothers and me. I still had them hanging around. Everyone hated the born ones too, the armor was all the same.”
I knew the Empire was responsible for that. They ordered us to do what we’d done and we took the blame. Citizens didn’t like us or trust us. Stormtroopers were reviled in the community, since they were known to harass people, the Empire was famous for oppressive security. Well, we were under orders to act that way. Civilians became disgusted and afraid at first sight of us. We had become the bad guys.
“I had to tell the story about the chips.” She surprised me.
“You know about that?” That story had gone around after the war. I knew about it before.
“Yes. I had to try to let people know that what you’d done wasn’t your fault. I told as many people as I could about how you were forced to turn on the Jedi. But nobody liked that. Finally, I got arrested again. Life in prison with the maintenance corps. Dragoon, now here.”
“Who did you piss off to end up getting sent here?” I had abandoned all hope of trying to finish my plate. It was just too foul. The commissary guys in Tipoca had had a much more subtle grilling technique. Shizla just cooked the thing to a dry little slab and knew that my desire to not be bitten would prevent her from hearing complaints.
“I saw the message with the transfer request made to my facility. I volunteered.” She wiped her hands on the apron she wore over the jumpsuit, stood, picked up the tray and walked out.
When Lina brought my dinner that night, I offered her the seat again. I was already a few drinks in.
“So what did they say when you volunteered to come here?” I was trying to reestablish the friendly rapport from the afternoon. I hoped she’d stay and talk.
She crossed her arms, but smiled. “Have fun getting raped ten times a day.”
I was a little taken aback. Racist comments about us clones were used so openly these days. “So what did you say?”
“Well, good thing I spent all those years supposedly running a clone brothel.”
I laughed. “You did not say that.”
“I did.” She smiled widely, “I never did know when to quit.” Her smile was shy, she looked down, but when she looked up, her eyes were mischievous.
“Well,” I said, “at least it hasn’t been that.”
“No, your brothers are actually the most polite inmates in the damned galaxy. I don’t think they would ever hurt me. Deep down, each one of you guys is still programmed to not harm non-clones unless ordered to. They’re more dangerous to each other,” she shrugged.
“I wouldn’t put too much faith in that.” I tried a bite of the dinner. It was the same as the last meal had been, but with the addition of a gray sauce. Shizla was out-doing herself.
I gave up and put down my fork. “Those guys can hurt you plenty.”
“I just show them I am not afraid.”
“If we still have that programming, then why were we able to hurt sentients eventually? I was downright brawling every night in Coruscant by the end of the war.”
“Because the war made you get used to hurting things.” She shrugged and walked out of my office.
“I don’t understand something, Lina,” I said one day while she was changing linens in the barracks. She was walking from cell to cell with a basket. I was just leaning against the wall in the barracks casually. I was taking a break from the consoles. I would hear an alarm if anything was going wrong. “I didn’t think feeding brothers at a restaurant or spreading a crazy sounding conspiracy theory merited a prison sentence. And how did you know about the chips? You never did tell me.”
“Serving food wasn’t all I was doing.” She said matter-of-factly.
I followed her and waited outside the doorway of the cell she was in. “Oh, so you really were running a brothel,” I joked.
She looked up and gave me wry look as she smoothed a sheet in place. “Rex came to see me near the end of the war. He told me that he had heard from people he trusted that you clones’ recurring nightmares were from a chip put in your brains. That the chip was going to be used to make you kill the Jedi. And that you’d been made by Count Dooku for that purpose.”
“I saw him then. He tried to convince me,” I said. Count Dooku was the Separatist leader. The idea that he’d made us ten years before the war was just a bit much. I refused to believe that I’d been made for some sinister purpose, it sounded like anti-clone rhetoric.
She looked up for a moment before balling up a sheet and throwing it into the basket. “If he was your best friend, why didn’t you believe him? Had he ever lied to you?”
“Because it sounded ridiculous. What did it matter, Rex died anyway.”
“You have no faith in people.” She picked up the basket and walked away before actually answering the question.
I followed her into the laundry. “So?”
“So, I had already been causing trouble. I sprayed an offensive message on the Defense Ministry building. When I was in jail for that, Grady came to visit me and told me how ashamed he was. I got home and the entire neighborhood was talking about me. Grady said he couldn’t even be sure that Alis was his. He left again. Me and Alis were alone for a little while. Grady had just come back again, so I was supposed to feel grateful. That was when Rex came to visit to tell me about the chips. He said he just needed a safe house to perform the surgery on himself to remove his chip and for me to wait while he was under anesthesia. I did. Later, they told me Rex had died. He had left the surgical equipment, so I tried to convince as many guys as I could to have the surgery. There were hundreds. Some of those men were killed because they didn’t fire on the Jedi during the purge, I’m sure of that, Cody. I know because guys who hadn’t had the surgery came back and told me the stories. Rex wasn’t lying.”
“Dooku was dead by then. Anecdotal evidence is not proof that these chips were the reason we killed the Jedi. They were just restraining chips to make us less aggressive.” I knew that wasn’t true.
“So you won’t believe Rex, and you won’t believe me?”
I changed the subject, “That’s why they arrested you? For removing the chips?”
“Eventually, they found out I had been the one to do it. It took a while because none of the clones would talk. But I was charged with sabotaging government property. As many counts as they could confirm. They had dozens. Some guys got away, I guess. I helped ones I could that wanted to try to desert.”
“What happened to your family?”
She sighed. “Well, in the thick of it, my husband told me he hated me. But none of us could leave. We were being monitored. I’d spent my days fantasizing about being able to talk to Rex, to tell him that I missed him and what a mess I’d made of my life. I wrote to him sometimes but hid the letters in Alis’ backpack.” Lina smiled. “Anyway, I thought at least that Grady would take Alis away if I got arrested. But he was arrested with me. We were interrogated and he gave me up for everything he knew about. I was convicted and sentenced mostly on his testimony. They let him go, but Grady didn’t want Alis, since he said he believed the stories. He was sure she was Rex’s baby, or from any one of the other guys people said I’d been with. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I wasn’t ever a very good wife, anyway. I’m sure he was relieved to be rid of the trouble. They sent me divorce papers to sign. That was that.”
“And your little girl?”
At that, she started to cry. “I don’t know. I hoped they’d find her a foster family. But they mentioned the Imperial workhouses. You know, those awful sweatshops you hear about. They wanted to make sure that your brothers and I didn’t try anything.” She stuffed sheets into the machine, “Either way, I’m stuck here, I’ll never find her. I did this to my family, with my defiance. The Empire had to show me that there was nothing they couldn’t take from me. That’s your Empire, Cody, they crush people completely.” She wiped her eyes with one of the sheets. “I’m too emotional, I guess. I can't just let things go.”
I didn’t know what to do. Like I said, I was really bad with women. I had only ever seen one cry once before and it was because I was hurting her. I felt bad whenever I thought about that. The girl had looked at me with such hatred.
I couldn’t comfort Lina, the way I saw some beings do when another would cry. I was just petrified in place. I finally said, “Feelings can be a burden sometimes. There were a lot of times I thought I was better off without them.” Like right about then.
“Rex said that you always did like the Mandalorian stuff,” Lina commented one day while cleaning my office. She pointed at some of the armor that decorated the walls.
“Yeah, well, not as much as I used to. I used to be a bit of a fanboy. Rex probably told you, our trainers at the academy were from exiled warrior clans, so I was really into it. Those guys were the coolest. Look, this is a bes’bev, it’s a blade and a flute, you can disembowel a guy and play him a funeral march as he dies!” I was smiling like a kid. “Or this one, it’s a kal, a dagger, look how perfectly balanced that is. And the craftsmanship, every single weapon is a unique work of art.” I put it back on its stand reverently.
“Rex said that your clone template was Mandalorian, he was really proud to be descended from Jango.” Yeah, he had been. He had idolized that guy. I don’t know why. I don’t think Jango ever spoke to any of us.
“It was funny, actually. I was always proud to be Mandalorian. But when I met real Mandalorians later, they were quick to tell me that Jango wasn’t really one of them. I mean, his ancestry wasn’t. I think they were trying to distance themselves, since he was adopted, but since when are adopted kids less yours? Then they said that he was with the Protectors of Concord Dawn, and that clan was exiled from Mandalore. Still, the warriors of Concord Dawn were great, we had some guys from there training us in Tipoca. Cabur Zyne, the guy who taught us hand to hand combat was one of my favorite teachers. One time, he let me be his champion in a fistfight in his place against another trainer to defend his clan’s honor. I destroyed the other guy. All the trainers said that they had better fight for the Republic because nobody wanted to fight against warriors like me. Our trainers gave Rex the damn jaig eyes. Some Mandalorians respected us clones. But most Mandalorians I met after the war reminded me that Jango was an assassin. I knew all that, but like, why did the Mandalorians have to spend so much effort to tell me I didn’t belong to them? I’m a clone, I’m used to having people try to make me feel like I’m less. But why did they have to go out of their ways to say so? It would have been easier for them to say nothing rather than insult me.”
“Some people have to make other people feel worse so that they can feel better about themselves. Mandalorians in my experience can be pretty sensitive about their past. Their people did some pretty destructive things to the galaxy. Shame makes people mean.”
By the time Lina had been there six months, we had a standing appointment to meet up after dinner. It was nice to have someone to drink with. I had plenty of brothers around me and I could not have a drink with one of them if I wanted to maintain their respect. Any of the other maintenance corps ladies would have stabbed me with one of my Mandalorian weapons.
Lina had started serving dinner to the inmates and bringing my tray up afterwards. I’d keep a guard droid by the door to take her down to her cell when she was ready to go to sleep. Sometimes I could forget that we were jailer and inmate. I don't know if she could. It was a pretty dysfunctional relationship, but it was all I had.
She was sitting in her chair with her shoes off and her legs folded up under her, holding a prison issue mug. The things were so light they could not be crafted into weapons. She had scratched her name into hers with a little heart at the end. It seemed like such a silly, childish gesture in a place like an Imperial prison, it had made me laugh. I had asked her why she’d done it and she lowered her eyes and smiled, then she told me that she liked the juxtaposition.
That night, we were talking about my brothers. She would tell me a guy she knew. I’d tell her all the stories about when they were in Tipoca. I was getting fairly hammered.
“So then, Neyo, he thought he had stolen painkillers, but he’d stolen laxatives. All the guys who did them had to sleep on the toilets.”
She wrinkled her nose, “Ewwww.” She swirled the whiskey in her glass and looked at it. “Do you consider Kamino your home still?”
“Maybe at one time. But maybe Rex told you, it wasn’t the nicest place to grow up. The Kaminoans called us ‘product units’ and experimented on us. If they could have engineered us to be bar shaped they would have been thrilled because we would have been easier to pack and ship.”
“Ha ha! Now that is one clone joke I have never heard.”
“I just made that one up now.”
She sipped her drink. “So do you ever think you’ll go back to Coruscant?”
I looked down at my desk a moment. It was kind of a sore subject. I took a gulp. “I can’t go back. I mean, even if I was allowed, I don’t want to. I’ve done too many horrible things. Let’s face it, I deserve to be here. I killed my friend, my commanding officer.”
“The chip made you do that.”
“Nobody in the Republic believes that but you. Truthfully, even I can never be sure. What if I had believed Rex and had the surgery? Or what if I could have resisted the chip? I was a strong-willed brother. I didn’t try. I’ll always doubt myself. The truth is, by the end of the war, I hated General Kenobi.” I had never admitted that to anyone. I drained my glass. I could feel the room spin a little. It had been quite a while since I had been this drunk. I was on the verge of a blackout.
Nevertheless, I poured more, “I was so angry at him for the way he treated me. He never gave me any of the freedom that other commanders gave to their men. He never gave me any love, not like he always showed General Skywalker. He never showed me any favor, like he gave Rex. I can’t escape the fact that although I could feel that damned chip take control of my body,” her eyes opened wider, “Oh yeah, I could. I know that part of the story is true. But I can’t escape the reality, I gave the order to shoot General Kenobi, and it felt good when I did it.”
My face was becoming slightly angrier. It was the face we used to use in Tipoca to intimidate each other. Lina looked frightened, but I had to continue. I was suddenly tired of her constant apologist nonsense about us clones. Her juvenile notion of who we were was getting on my nerves. The floodgates were open and I was, as they say in Mando’a, haryc b’aalyc, tired and emotional. That meant, I was completely drunk.
I drained my drink and poured myself another good sized glass. “I lied in court, saying the Jedi were starting a coup. But I knew it was a lie, we all did. We all backed each other up. Even the guys who didn’t do it were complicit in murder. I wasn’t just complicit in that, no, I led it. I ordered men to hunt for Kenobi’s body to be sure he was dead. I ordered men to lie for me when questioned.”
Lina’s body was tense, she was holding her drink, but she was looking at me. “You were afraid of what would happen if you didn’t. They had made you promises and you were desperate enough to believe them because there was no other way out.”
“I betrayed my brothers after the war. I told their secrets to the Empire. Men died because of information I gave. And for what? So I could be some token clone in the Defense Ministry? Even here and now, when I’ve lost everything, I’m chased by my failures.” I had to say something. It was hurting me every time I saw her and I just wanted the pain to go away. I took a breath, “I was the one who reported Rex for being with you. I thought he was being reckless, but I chose to do that! I was jealous of him, I wanted him to hurt.” I had never admitted that, even to myself. “I did that without the help of any chip. You have this impression of us as harmless nice guys, but you have NO concept of what you’re dealing with. You seem to think those men downstairs are just children, but they will strangle you in your sleep if they are ordered to. Some of them will enjoy it. You think that I am just what you say, a good brother, but I am a murderer, a bully, and a liar. Every one of us, including your beloved Rex was a ruthless killer. We deserve to be here. We are everything,” I threw my glass against the wall and it shattered, “they said we were.”
She swallowed, looking at me unblinking. She stood up and left. She tried to be very calm about it, but I could tell she was shaken. I drank the rest of my whiskey straight from the bottle.
I didn’t see Lina for a few days. I couldn’t face her after what I’d said. I was sure she didn’t want to see me anyway. I told Shizla to send up the Dressellian. That girl wouldn’t even sit for a drink with me, while I had nothing nefarious in mind. She even called me something that I’m sure from the context meant ‘ugly’, as if the concept of getting raped by me repulsed her more because I was a clone. Me, ugly? Her race was colloquially called ‘prune faces’. I mean, really? Did anyone in the galaxy not look down on us?
I finally cracked and asked to see Lina again. She came up for dinner. I made sure I was sober. And that I’d taken a decent shower. I had my full uniform on, buttoned up. I sat up straight. Perfect manners befitting an officer. I was trying to be as polite as possible.
“Thank you,” I said when she set down the tray on my desk, without looking at me. “Would you like to stay? I could make some tea?” Tea? That was all I could think of to say to sound polite. Trust me, we clones really couldn’t talk to women.
She looked completely confused.
“You know…or just hang out.” I felt like such an idiot.
To my surprise, she sat down.
“Um, listen, I’m sorry about last time. I didn’t mean to…”
She smiled finally. “We all have those days.”
“Why do you do that?”
“Forgive me for everything.”
Then she exhaled and shook her head slightly, “How can I judge? I made my own awful decisions. I told myself that by leaving Rex, I was keeping us both safe, but maybe that was just to cover for my mistake. I could have let it go at that, I could have stayed away from all of you and kept my daughter safe like I should have. Maybe the military would have left me alone, I don’t know.”
I looked at my plate. The aiwha today was actually looking a little more appetizing. Not overdone at all. “I know what it’s like to make excuses to yourself. I told myself I was keeping Rex out of trouble. But when the Republic started taking things away from him, I think it just made him so hopeless, that he didn’t care if he got himself killed on the battlefield. Then he did. I never would have believed it, he was such a great soldier.”
She laughed. “Cody, he’s not dead.”
My vision blurred a little as I took a bite of my dinner. It was actually edible. “I saw the body.”
“Oh, and there is no way he could be mistaken for another soldier, huh?” Lina cocked an eyebrow.
I still believed she was joking, but she continued, “First he came to see me for the surgery. After he had the surgery, I found a backpack in with the surgical equipment at my restaurant. I put a letter in it telling him all about the Military Police. I needed him to know why I really left him, I guess. After he was supposed to be dead, the pack was gone. I knew he’d run. He contacted me once to say he was safe. I sent a message back with a single use com. Niki from 79’s supposedly knew where he was because Wolffe followed him.”
“What?” I didn’t even know a Niki, but with Wolffe, anything was possible.
“For all you know, those two, your best brothers, are out there somewhere playing sabacc and drinking on a beach and you could have been with them.” She smiled at the ridiculous image. “Instead, you’re stuck here. You did have a chance, but you didn’t believe Rex when he came to you.”
She was right. I had never had much faith in people. I hated the Empire very much right then.
Something finally made sense to me. “So, when Rex came to see you for the surgery, is that when he left you that necklace?”
She paused and gripped the front of the chain. “Yeah.” She got a look on her face, a kind of goofy smile.
I knew what that meant. “Oh.”
No sense denying it, she had been caught. What did it matter now anyway? She decided it didn’t. “After the surgery, he had a little cut on his head, but otherwise he was fine. Still, I cried like a baby, he had to comfort me. We got a little carried away.”
“Nice,” I chuckled.
“Hey, don’t judge me, Cody. We all have our moments we aren’t proud of. But he was the love of my life and I knew I was never going to see him again. My marriage wasn’t the best. I admit my judgment was a little cloudy, but with that, I probably wouldn’t do anything differently. I’m not perfect.”
“So how was it?” I laughed.
She scowled at me.
“What? He was always so fond of telling everybody the honorable way to behave. It’s just funny. Nice to know he’s human, too.”
She sighed and didn’t look at me, but wiped a tear and took a breath. “It was the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. The next day I started to convince other clones to have the surgery too. I was in so much pain from what I’d lost that I had to try to do something to set it right. I didn’t think about what would be good for me or my family. I was just so angry. The Empire didn’t find out what I’d done for four years, but once they did, they came for me. I have remorse, but how can I say I have regrets? I knew the consequences of everything at the time and I was so wrapped up in my feelings, didn’t care. Still, I did what I thought was right. Since I know how hopeless I am, I’m willing to forgive. I deserve to be here, too. I don’t know why I’m still alive. But,” she did an Obi-Wan impression, “The will of the Force, you know?”
I laughed. It seemed almost perverse to be joking about a man I’d murdered. But I hadn’t done my Obi-Wan impression in years, and mine was the best in the galaxy. We drained a bottle of Tevraki whiskey and traded increasingly absurd things to say in Obi-Wan voices for another hour. Until, suddenly, I put my head down on my desk and cried until I fell asleep. I really missed General Kenobi. I still could never be sure that I'd really have killed him, if the choice had been mine. But it hadn't been. Lina was gone by the time I woke up.
I was doing weekly inspections of the cells, just looking for contraband to confiscate. There wasn’t much the inmates could have possessed, but protocols dictated that I had to do inspections, so I did. I’d go through the cells with droid guards. I started finding little drawings, just one or two at first. Then more. Nothing too skilled. But it was so strange to see them there. They were made on napkins.
I asked Shizla, she told me to ask Lina. So I did, the next time she brought up my lunch.
“So what about the drawings.” They were simple. Just animals or plants. They were too simple to be some kind of code or something.
Lina looked worried, but relaxed when she saw I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t going to punish her. I just didn’t know why she was doing it.
“I like drawing. I’m not really great at it, but I always enjoyed it. I used to draw in all these notebooks when I was young.”
When I was a kid in Tipoca, I’d had notebooks filled with my drawings, mostly of Mandalorian armor and weapons. I didn’t know normal kids did that, too.
“When you brothers were coming into the restaurant, a lot of the shinies straight out of Kamino had no idea what any of the food was. I mean, their entire lives in a closed facility, they had been pretty deprived. I had to do a lot of explaining. So I would draw the animals or plants on a napkin. Your brothers liked the drawings, so they kept them. A lot of the guys downstairs I already know. They still ask me to draw pictures for them. So I draw on their napkins before I serve them dinner.”
“Aw, I feel deprived. I’ve never gotten a drawing. Can I have one?”
Lina sat down and grabbed a pen from the cup on my desk, smiling. I gave her a piece of paper from a diagnostic printout.
“Do you have a lot of these?” she asked as she drew an aiwha. It was kind of cartoonish and smiling.
I was sure from the picture that she had never seen a real one. Few sentients in the galaxy had actually ever been to Kamino, I remembered. “Sure, you want them?”
“Yes. I can make you a storybook, like the ones I used to make with Alis.” She looked down and gave that shy smile again.
I gave her a stack of pages and she promised to make me a little book by sewing them together with thread. As thoroughly silly as I found the whole enterprise, I looked forward to getting it.
I also looked forward to the next inspection, to see the new napkins that she was giving to my brothers. Some had notes this time:
“People will tell you that you are bad, that you are less than human. They will say that you are by nature violent. I say that it’s not true. They made it your duty to fight and kill.”
“They will tell you that you are worthless, that you are unwanted. I say that it’s not true. They didn’t allow anyone to claim you.”
“They will tell you that you are disloyal. But that is absolutely not true. You served selflessly and whole heartedly. Then they discarded you. Who was disloyal?”
“They have branded you as disloyal by nature, but I say that loyalty is a choice and they took the choice away from you.”
They. It was an interesting choice of word. In propaganda, it is a great exculpator for the audience. Lina was telling my brothers that ‘they’ had given us a shit deal. It was clear at whom she was directing their ire. She was being pretty rebellious, even if the prisoners were pretty well helpless here. As warden, I should have been doing something about it, but as a clone, I enjoyed the rhetoric too much. I had full on Stockholm Syndrome and I was the jailer.
I confiscated two of my favorite napkins.
“They hurt you, they persecuted you, they controlled you, and then they cast you off. But they also underestimated you.”
“You are sentient beings, the living Force dwells within you. You know the difference between right and wrong in your hearts. You are great warriors with a proud tradition. You have accomplished brave deeds and saved lives. Don’t let them tell you who you are.”
She said nothing about Dooku creating us, like Rex believed. I realized that hearing that might have made my brothers hate themselves. It was interesting. Of Rex’s crazy conspiracy theory, everything about it was true except that. Dooku hadn’t been the one to give Order 66. I knew firsthand who had.
Lina finally brought me my story book. She had only had the one pen to work with, so she apologized that it wasn’t in color. “This is the story Alis and I made a book out of together.”
It had Rex’s picture on the cover. I had to laugh, “You are so lame.”
“You are such a fangirl.”
“Says the guy with a Mandalorian weapon and armor collection.”
I started to read, to myself. She left quietly, with an embarrassed face on. Having been a writer, I knew how hard it was to watch someone read your work. I’d let Jar Jar read a first draft of my Meditations, and he made me sit there while he read the first chapter aloud in that voice of his. I had wanted to rip off my own ears and shove them down his throat, but I had to just sit there and grimace as if I was enjoying the honor. I still have nightmares about it.
So the book wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read. It was an illustrated version of Rex’s story as a kind of fairy tale. How he fell in love with Lina, how he chose duty over her, but reluctantly. Then he’d discovered that the chips were dangerous, they would make him have to kill Jedi. He refused and removed the chip. He knew his brothers might try to kill him if he didn’t kill the Jedi. So he ran from them rather than hurt them or let them hurt him. Lina helped him escape because they still loved each other and she wanted to save his life. He got away and he would come back someday to help people again.
She’d made him sound positively gallant, like the old Mandalorian stories about the great heroes. Even that part about his return. Waiting for the great fallen warriors of the past to return was a pervasive theme in myths. It was also powerful for rallying people and giving them hope. It really made me proud of my brother and of us clones when I read it. I was also strangely impressed with her inadvertent flare for propaganda. I understood why the Empire had not wanted her around us. She was the kind of girl who could inspire a rebellion.
I saw Lina later when she brought my dinner. Tonight’s sauce actually looked appetizing. It was yellowish and actually smelled like it had flavor. I had the little book on my desk.
“So, what you say in there…That’s really how you see him?”
She relaxed, but only enough to cup her elbows in her hands in front of her. She was still self-conscious. She sighed but didn’t look at me. “Yes. We all need something to cling to, even if it is just a made up romantic fantasy. We're all kids at heart, aren't we? We need heroes to believe in. People to inspire us.” I started to eat, so she sat down.
“I admit I’m envious.”
“Oh, Cody, even you have your good qualities. Think of how much you accomplished in your career. Think of how much you did that was admirable. Like the inmates, you’ve just been doing things that you know are wrong for so long that you don’t like yourself. But deep down, you are still a good person. You’re honestly trying to do better. There is hope for you.” That’s what she saw in me?
She stood up and left quietly. After dinner, I stood at my window for a long time. Through the ray shield, the damned cloudy sky overhead looked almost beautiful.
I spent my days at the consoles as usual, but I spent some of my time checking the Imperial databases for Alis Grady. She was not easy to track it down, I had to do some detective work, researching prisoner manifests from Coruscant from the first few years after the war. I was always good at research. I finally found her on Tibrin. I remembered Tibrin. The time Rex and I were there, everyone in the camp had gotten food poisoning from some bad nutrition rations. He joked that we should put the guys who pulled latrine detail up for medals of honor. It had been horrifying.
There was no way that I could get Alis transferred or free her, I didn’t exactly have any pull in the Imperial government anymore. She was supposed to stay there until she was eighteen and no longer a ward of the state. I couldn’t let that happen. She was eight years old. It took me a long time to think of any friends who would help me.
Finally, I sent a coded transmission to Concord Dawn. The prisoner lists from Tibrin included several Mando’a names, probably orphans that had been taken in by the Empire after the Siege of Mandalore. The Mandalorian warrior houses were known to raid prisons to rescue Mandalorians, who would then owe their loyalty to the house that rescued them. It was a great recruiting tool. It was a long shot, but my anonymous message reached the planet and I received a transmission from my old teacher, Cabur Zyne. I told him that I had a tip about the work house. He reported back to me that the Protectors had investigated and what I had said was true. They would be going. It was not much, but at least I could get Alis to some people I could trust.
I waited on pins and needles for three months. Finally, I got a delivery of a crate of Mandalorian moonshine with a note inside for me. Zyne had sent me a picture of Alis to let me know she was safe. It showed Zyne with her. He was in his armor, looking every bit the impressive warrior I remembered. The same blue and silver armor Jango wore. Armor I would have given anything to wear. With him was a little girl. Same blue eyes as Lina. Straw colored hair, just like a real Mandalorian girl. She looked terrified. I could only imagine what she’d seen in her short life. She was clinging to Zyne, who had his arm around her shoulder protectively. Aliit ori'shya tal'din. ‘Family is more than blood’. You are ours.
When it arrived, I wanted to give it to Lina, so she would know. I figured that finally knowing her daughter was safe would go a long way in healing her pain. It didn’t completely make up for how sorry I felt. But at least it was a start. Lina didn’t deserve to be here with us, I thought, she chose us. She claimed us as her own and had lost so much. I had the chance to do something completely altruistic and feel completely good about myself.
I don’t know why I didn’t leave well enough alone. But I’m only a guy after all, not some celibate Jedi. I gave her the picture and she hugged me, crying into my shoulder and saying ‘thank you’ over and over. I held her tight. Her hair really smelled nice. I thought I was picking up on something, so I took a deep breath and went for it. I don't know what had happened to my combat conditioning. But it was actually the nicest kiss I’ve ever had. I had only ever kissed one girl before and she was a little rough. And you don’t kiss prostitutes. This one was gentle and heavy with feeling. Lina’s eyes were wet and the tears got on my face. I could feel her melt a bit into my arms. She actually was kissing me back. Then all of a sudden, she pulled away and slid her hands from my neck to my shoulders. She pushed me away and whispered, “I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
“What? Why?” It sounded incongruous. She liked Fett clones more than anyone in the galaxy. I kept my arms around her waist and my forehead to hers.
She removed my arms and walked out. At least she still trusted me enough to know I would let her. Damned if that didn’t make me like her more.
We went back to our routine, even with the initial awkwardness. I never held it over her what I’d done for her, she never held it against me that I was in love with her. At least we knew where we stood. We could be honest. We spent our time after dinner in the evenings. We told stories about people we knew in common. There were actually a lot. The funniest were the ones about Generals Kenobi and Skywalker when they’d been master and padawan. Lina and I both had a fondness for clone slang. Since she had actually known most of the inmates before they came here, she told me stories about them. They weren’t all monsters, I guessed. Some probably were more dangerous than she was willing to admit, but she was popular with the guards, the other prisoners, and me so she was well protected when she went to the barracks. I still maintained my stern demeanor over the facility, had to assert dominance. Just like in Tipoca. But I did start to make some concessions for prisoner comfort. I was stuck here too, so I figured that we could all benefit from any improvements. No sense being greedy out here. I funded my improvements by selling surplus exonium to more…private concerns. I was ripping off the Empire, it felt good to do it. I was surprised how easy it was. We got better food for one. I had better rations shipped in and promoted Lina to cook. Shizla was relieved, she hated cooking, it showed. I got the guards some liquor and allowed them to drink in their barracks before lights out. I shortened the work day so that the guys could have breakfast in their cells before descending the lifts. I lifted the ban on talking. Mornings were much more lively, so I actually started getting up earlier to listen to the conversations the guys had during their morning meals. Same kinds of conversations we used to have on Tipoca. They were funny.
Lina was having a drink with me after my dinner one night. “So what would you wish for, Cody, I mean if you could have anything, what would you do with the life you have left?”
“Eh. I don’t think I have much life left. We do have that rapid aging thing. My life could be worse. At least I’m not mining. I always have drinking. And I may be a member of a shunned race, but at least out here I’m king.” I took a sip, “King of Rishi, what a title. Come to think of it, I believe the name Rishi is Kaminoan for ‘planet ruled by sub-human scumbag’.”
She laughed, “Now that one, I know you made up.” She took a drink, “You missed the point of the game, you are supposed to think of what you want to happen, like your favorite daydream, what would be the thing you most hope for even if you know it will never happen in a million years.”
“I don’t know. Hunt down and assassinate those who’ve wronged me.”
She gave me an incredulous look as if trying to tell if I was joking. I wasn’t really. Well, she had asked me what I daydreamed about. I had fantasized about killing Tarkin for years.
“What about you, are you ever going to be released?”
“No,” she sighed. “I know I’ll probably die out here, too.”
“So I guess we’re here together until the end.” I tipped my glass at her.
“I’m still not sleeping with you.”
“Ah, so it’s a real marriage, then,” I joked in my Obi-Wan impression.
She rolled her eyes. “And how would you even know?”
“Dunno. I saw the joke on a holo-vid once. Besides, someone has a high opinion of herself.” I took a sip, “I’ve moved on, you know. Nishki in the kitchen appreciates me for my many attractive qualities.” She was Harch, they mate by leaving egg clutches for fertilization at a later time.
Lina laughed. “Oh, good for you two. I told her she’d find love eventually.”
“So why won’t you?” I said, somewhat serious. I put my elbow on the desk and leaned my head against my fist.
She thought for a minute, while looking at her glass. “You mean aside from the severely messed up power dynamic here?" I guess it was pretty messed up, if I acknowledged it. She had a point. "I promised myself that I’m done with men. You never caused me anything but trouble.” She drew her feet up under her on the chair.
I sipped at my drink, “It’s not stupid to try and do better, I suppose, even if you know your efforts won’t mean anything.”
“Well, I don’t know if I'll always make the right decisions from now on. Like you, I’m trying. If we did that together, even if we were in healthier circumstances, I’d still be lying to you. I like you too much to use you.” She laughed when I raised an eyebrow. “It wouldn’t really be you I wanted. You deserve better than that. So do I.”
“Do I, really? I might not.” I squinted. I was being a scoundrel just to joke with her. I hoped she understood I was trying to diffuse tension rather than be a creep.
She shook her head at me and smirked. “You know, when Rex finally came to find me after he came home, I realized that what we’d had was real. But in that instant, I’d already lost him. I had caused pain to someone who had only ever been loyal and good to me. I absolutely hated myself. Here, all I have left is myself and I have to try to be someone I like. The person I think I am is the person I was with him. That person may be childish and silly, but also open hearted and good. I only want to do things I can be proud of.” I understood that more than she knew.
“I guess I don’t want to either if that’s how it is. I’m stuck out here having to live with myself and I want to be someone I like too. And someone you like. You know, I still hope you change your mind."
“You’re stubborn,” she smiled. She took it as a joke, as intended.
“Just one of the manifold things Rex and I have in common. It’s frustrating, everybody always liked him better than me,” I laughed.
“Who doesn’t love a blonde?” she said in the Obi-Wan voice as she took a drink. She had stopped wearing the scarf around me months before. Her hair was the color of honey.
“Anyway, you’re stubborn too.”
“I loved him. I know I’m an idiot. I still imagine him coming for me one day, even if that’s a fantasy. For all I know, he got himself killed. Or he’s running diagnostics on every floozy from here to Malastare.”
I knew my little brother. Neither of those things sounded likely. The guy was deadly. If he really was alive, I was honestly better off giving him fewer reasons to shoot me in the head.
“I guess I just want to be that girl who believes in fairy tales.” She tried to sound sarcastic, but I knew it was true.
“You are so lame.” I stood up from my desk and came around to her. I leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “I’m still really envious.” I headed off to bed.
“And of you. Even in this horrible place, you find something to look forward to.”
She smiled mischievously and shouted after me, “Don’t give up. I’m sure Shizla would just love a knight in shining Mandalorian armor. You’ll have to keep it on, though. I hear she’s a biter.” She got up quietly and closed the door on her way out.