In long halls and echoing steps lays brotherhood, held close in tired hands between knocked heads and synced breaths. One foot ahead of another, and another, silent in the late evening, evasive—listening to whispers through closed barracks doors. Hearing the hole left behind by dead brothers and the question they all ask themselves.
Mereel knows they all deal with it differently.
They hadn’t said a word when a commando put his shiv to his arm and pulled the eject, looking for a little bit of a little more—for him, for his brothers—even if it was time spent in Medical, because clones don’t get leave, only shafted on rotations.
Not a word, except misfire. Mistake. Accident.
Medical behind him, barracks ahead, mess to the left. Nowhere to go when ghosts laugh in the dark. The air inside his helmet burns in blaster fire and cooked meat. He walks. One foot in front of another. Wears the smile that never fades because he can.
Another had taken the optic wires of battered droids to string up like garlands, decorate like lights across the ceiling, around the crumbs of a broken pillar tree—and received a slap and a stern talking to instead of a ship-out and shape-up to Psych. Weird, some said. Odd. Against regulations.
Regulations never explained what to do when you close your eyes and see the inside of your gun. But it’s all in fun, get up and run, look out at the sun and fight for your brother, tonight, and into another.
Making his rounds and he knows it well. Everyone deals with it differently.
“Come outside,” Jaing’s gentle voice in his ear, Kom’rk’s song skirting his words. You’ve walked enough tonight, unspoken, implied.
Down the hall, four dots so tightly knit together they smoothed as one in his HUD, Delta squad blended separate from the outside. Something hurt, something went wrong somewhere, but they had each other still, and that was enough. Had to be enough. And he didn’t have the time to break their walls, only the voice to hope they could stay that way well on the outs of the war.
But even the best lost their luck sometimes. Man down, man down, man down. His perfect genetics wouldn’t let him forget. But that’s okay.
Steady. “Making rounds,” Mereel responds. “Almost done.” Smile.
The turn for mess came and went. He walks. One foot in front of another. Holding the smile that never fades because he can.
A’den’s personal message flutters across the lower marquee, a coherent mix of mando’a and basic and streaming periodic updates—always on a schedule, always concise and to the point, without the fluff of nonsense and jokes and sarcasm while he waits for advice, or advisement. Sounds good, Mereel replies. I trust your judgment.
He would have pointed him to Ordo, but Ordo’s helmet points him in a private residential district in Coruscant, at well past 0300 standard.
His captain had always said they kept barracks too cold.
“Need another pair of boots?” Kom’rk ceases his song to ask.
You take a little to give a little. Perfect recall had its moments in broken pieces on the floor of a fresher, in the shape of a shattered mirror where his hand had split and rained over tile. Still a little less than half awake but not quite dead and walking.
The doors to outside cycle open on his approach, responding to the ping from his armor. Lieutenant, ARC Null, feel free to go where you wish at this ungodly hour.
Don’t mind if I do.
“I’m okay.” The winds sweep away his exit, his entrance, in its chilled embrace. Behind his boots cycle shut the doors to rest, and mess, and medical.
Jaing greets him over his shoulder, knees bent on the edge of the fort’s edge to tap his heels against the stone walls. “Took you long enough.”
His helmet bends sharp at an angle about his shoulders, broken, shattered at the neck, creeping red from between the seals and staining blue sigils violet.
A pause in his step blinks his brother right again and Mereel remembers to breathe.
Any other night and a seven storey drop is just unimpressive, unimportant, irrelevant to the grander scheme of things. His brother is safe, he knows, alive and fine and not what he sees, so he sets his knees to the single sleep mat on broken tile and bends at the waist. His helmeted forehead clacks against thin fabric and breaks the broken tile further—he can feel the part even through the thick-armored buy’ce.
Beside him, a heat-lamp glows, scattering light up and over Kom’rk’s seated form—a pale yellow ghost in the black and blue alien night—occupying the only seat available on the roof. He strums his gloved hands over the strings of the instrument nestled safe in his lap and between his arms, it’s strap slipped over one shoulder.
“Ke’nuhoy, vod’ika.”Kom’rk nods at him. His brother reaches down to press a calloused palm onto his helmet, a thumb pressed against his mind’s eye and smoothed across the forehead above the T.
“Mhi cuy’olar.” Jaing rises from the edge, moving beyond his immediate field to automatically trigger the tracking in his HUD’s 360, and settles to his knees behind him. Mereel lets himself be pulled into an armored lap, twisting to stretch his legs out in exhaustion sideways and uncomfortable and tired, tired, tired.
His brothers’ voices lull about him, dragging his eyes to close as their touch pulls him out to pasture into sleep. Skirting the dark, his brother sings, soft, in his ears.
“Daab’juaan vaii pirun’aav nuhoyi.
Par’adat ne’kar’tayl meg jorso’ran.
Ru’takis de shonar brokar be’piruni briik.
Ogi’par suum ca’nara taabi’ni.”