Blue and I were just sitting around having a drink one night. He’s the only other first batcher in the colony, so you could say Blue’s my oldest friend. We’ve actually known each other since nursery year on Kamino. We weren’t close before, I didn’t see him much during the war, or very often while I was at the Leadership Academy in the cloning facility. He was in with the general infantry population, strictly a grunt. But I did know him enough to say hello when we would see one another in passing. When I came out to Rishi to be the warden of the military mining prison, he was one of the inmates. Once I took over the prison and we all formed an illegal colony together, Blue and I tentatively re-forged our ties and eventually became real friends.
We were both first generation Fett clones, the early experiments, who were pushed the hardest to test our limits. Those of us that survived to be recruited from the initial Republic order were only the strongest two hundred thousand out of a half a million embryos of the Fett Template that they started out with. Blue and I are all that’s left of us, as far as I know for certain in the flesh and blood. Although, I can’t be sure. I really hope that if any are left, they would try to find their way to us sooner or later.
I think our colony on the planet Rishi might be the largest community of Clone War veterans left in the galaxy, outside of the dregs that remain in the Stormtrooper corps. Since our liberation of the prison, more brothers have joined us, seeking asylum from the Empire. Usually, they ran because they were wanted for crimes. But we don’t judge. Any sensible person is an outlaw in the eyes of the Empire.
Men come to me because every brother in the galaxy knows who I am. I was the coordinating director of the front line campaign during the war. Our war. They believe it when they hear that I can provide a safe place for clones to exist.
I in turn give them the best lives I can. I consider it my duty. They tried to elect me king last year, but I insist that I am not their ruler. I gave Rex’s old girlfriend that job. Stroke of genius that was. Everybody loves a pretty girl. We clones grovel before women better than any guys in the galaxy, we’re just so happy to see them. So while she and others I have designated keep things running, I look to security and economic interests.
Besides the prison, I orchestrated a takeover of the sector’s criminal enterprises and built up a pirate fleet. My brothers and whatever other women and men in the colony have combat experience serve in our enterprises for an equal stake in our earnings. I’m not in control of our decision making on our endeavors, I merely advise our council and we all decide. It’s directing, like the hand that wields the weapon. Or maybe the implement, I guess. Hands can wield tools, too. Hey, I’m part of a race that was literally made for war, is it so surprising that that’s where my brain would go first when crafting a metaphor? No. I’m not a tyrant!
Despite my insistence on a balance of powers, the temptation to become a tyrant is constant. You would not believe the stupid decisions people make even after you warn them. To prevent overreaching, I feel that I must therefore try and keep myself humble. When we first liberated the prison, my brothers wanted to vote for titles. I told them that we would all remain what we were, but that ranks were no longer necessary among brothers. They still voluntarily give me deference, though. Since almost nobody but Rex’s girlfriend could call me Cody, out of habit, the people in my colony called me what my title was in the prison, the Warden Commander.
I like that. Commander was the rank I was awarded in the Grand Army and during the early Empire. It is literally a part of my first name (Clone Commander-Two-Two-Two-Four.) I was a legitimate leader, after all. As for warden, that is not only a true rank I held in life, it also implies I am a keeper, but not in the sense any more that I keep people confined. But more like, in the sense that it is my duty to guard them for their protection. It reminds me of the old Mandalorian Protectors. They were the clan that had adopted and trained our clone template, Jango, so he’d once born the title of Protector himself. Thus, I felt that there was something historical or hereditary about my being a warden. So, Warden Commander of Rishi is a perfectly suitable thing for me to be. It’s ironic, really. I was ambitious in my younger days, always wanting to achieve something more than my predetermined roles. Whereas, I now have a renewed appreciation for myself and my origins.
People like Blue make me sentimental about our upbringing. Blue is an old storyteller. A living witness to a historic time in clone existence, back from when we were created as a people. We would sit together often at the colony, usually at my house. I live in a nicer residence overlooking our settlement. The colony is a small, but well-armed village, on top of a cliff with ray shields protecting it and the landing platform in front of the mine’s entrance. We have tunnels dug all over the cliff to hold our ships and supplies in case of siege, as well as the old fuel mine that is now operating on droid labor. Blue would often come at dusk to discuss the news and to give advice on day to day matters. He was usually angling to be invited to dinner. I liked to hear what he had to say. He had never been a leader himself, but was capable and extremely pragmatic.
When he’d visit, we’d eventually end up telling stories. There seemed to be no end to them, which is funny for such a small population as ours. So much had happened to us.
“So then Slade was waiting for him outside the latrine. He jumped out and just slammed him in the crotch,” I slapped my hand soundly to demonstrate. “Poom. Wolffe just crumpled. Had to go to the infirmary for the night.” By the time I finished, Blue and I were both laughing like little boys.
“Wolffe, heh. You know he head butted me, third year.”
“That’s right, I forgot about that.” I blotted my eyes with the back of my hand, still laughing a little. “When you guys ate all that ice?”
“Were you there for that?”
“Yeah. We all lost our gambling bets because nobody predicted that ending to the competition.”
“I went to the infirmary with a broken nose. I threw up cold water and blood everywhere.”
“He just rubbed his forehead and walked out. Brother was crazy. You know they had him on psych meds from his second year on? Wherever he is, he’s damaged, I’m sure.”
“You think he really might still be alive?” We clones loved to speculate on the status of other brothers. Blue chuckled and took a drink of beer. We were brewing in the colony that year with the surplus grain.
“I don’t know. After the end of the war, his old lady told me Wolffe thought Rex was still alive, so he might have run. With Wolffe, anything was possible.” He did a lot of strange things, a lot of the time. Just to see what he could get away with. He was lucky, too. Never got caught for anything. “I hope. Sometimes I liked to imagine where he might be now. What he’d be getting up to.”
“I thought Rex died.”
“What I thought, too. Hell, I even had a funeral for him.” I took a drink, “But some people swear he’s alive. When I was with the Imperial Security Bureau, he was still on their wanted list.”
“Good for him. I hope they never get him. That bastard was a hero.” Blue said, appreciatively. He was right.
“You know,” I pointed at the moon above us, “Up there this one time, he downed one of those giant eels with one shot to the eye.” I mimed a blaster by pointing my index finger from my hand. “No hesitation.”
“I didn’t know you’d been to Rishi Moon before?”
“Oh yeah, Rex and I went everywhere.” Rex had been my best friend. The person closest to me I’d ever had in my life up until now. I wanted to believe he was still free. Yet, he is the person in the galaxy I am most afraid to face again. “Honestly, I wish I knew where they might have gone. You know, they might even have Gregor with them. You remember him?”
“Gregor! That brother was mental. He would hand out those little notes to random people he met at restaurants or bars. He used to give them to strippers all the time. Or he’d walk up to ladies and give them little gifts I think he found in the trash. Walking around in his uniform and that cape. I picked him up one time when I saw him walking and I was driving a transport back to Central Command, the whole way back he was just going on and on about the injustices of slavery. He said he used to get arrested for rioting because the police were trying to keep him quiet.”
“I know. I was his C.O. I had to bail him out every time,” I groaned.
“He must have been fun.”
“He had mir’shupur (brain injury). He should have been allowed to retire or given a pension in that state, and been taken care of. He wouldn’t have hurt anyone. You know, in Mandalorian society, guys like that are honored for that sacrifice. They wear a special sigil on their clothes so everyone knows to respect them and not make fun. Before he hit his head, Gregor was a hell of a soldier.” I shook my head and took a drink.
“You say you think they’re together?” Blue raised his eyebrows forcing that line in the middle of his forehead to crease.
“Why not? I know I’d feel better if they were. Can you imagine being alone? Still, joke’s on us, those three got out before Order 66. Lucky bastards.”
I had been working around my brother clones my whole life, first in our cloning facility, then in the army, then in the government, then in a prison, now in my colony. Clones were always so segregated that I think I have hardly spent a single day of my life that I didn’t have contact with hundreds of my brothers. That’s why the idea of my brothers scattered over the galaxy is a strange one to me. We were always such a close community that being alone is a frightening thought.
Maybe not to all of us. Rex had spent days or weeks away from clones, off assisting Jedi missions. Wolffe would disappear on leave time, spending it doing who knows what, usually with low types. Gregor was actually unaware that he was a clone for over a year when he had amnesia. He was shocked to see so many people that looked just like him once he was brought home to Coruscant. I think that realization that he came from a laboratory made him uncomfortable. Maybe all that time, being as individual as the people around them, those brothers learned how to see things in a way that the rest of us couldn’t.
Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor were some of my closest brothers during the war and even growing up. Maybe if I’d made different decisions, I would be with them now. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, my life has turned out fine. But my life would still feel more complete with them in it. If they, like me, survived the war and its aftermath, we would have so much to talk about. There is a lot I would like to know.
The last time I saw each of them was before I left for Utapau, the battle where I received Order 66, and executed it personally. I knew that Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor had all taken out their control chips before they fled. Unlike the rest of us clones, those brothers didn’t carry out the Jedi purge, or lie or keep silent to cover it up. Afterwards, the rest of us were left to try and rationalize our betrayal any way we could.
“I still can’t believe we really did that. Killed the Jedi. I spent a lot of years feeling horrible. I shot General Ki-Adi, you know.” Blue looked down and studied the ground. “I didn’t hear the rumors about the chips until years later. I don’t think I believed them until I came here. All those years, I knew what I’d done and I couldn’t figure out why I’d done it, even though it had felt wrong. I went a little mad.”
My guilt over it was even more extreme. I had been warned. Rex had discovered the truth and had told me. I hadn’t trusted my best friend and, when the Order came, I, with the help of only one other soldier, had been forced to murder General Obi-Wan Kenobi. For years I privately owned the guilt and refused to admit that the control chip had been entirely responsible. Even though I had felt the chip take over my body and actions, I assumed that it had only worked because I had allowed it to. Even that I liked what I was doing. That doing evil felt right. Only recently had I admitted that I had been forced against my will. That’s harder to admit to oneself than you would think. Sometimes people would rather see themselves as bad than admit weakness or helplessness. “I think we all did,” I said regretfully.
Talking about Wolffe, Rex, and Gregor made me think about how people change. If they lived, I wonder what they’re like now. Those brothers and I changed a lot as the war turned us inside out.
Commander Cody’s first and last conversations with three fugitives.
I met Wolffe on my first day when I moved into the Leadership Academy in my 4th year of life. Wolffe and I were assigned to sleeping drawers next to one another, where we would stay the next seven years side by side. We were close friends for most of our lives.
The start of leadership training was my first time away from my batch mates, those guys that we had gone through our early years with. I had always felt stronger with my entourage. None of my mates had been allowed in leadership, though. We had been test subjects for growth hormones and they had all been branded overly aggressive and sent to general infantry. It was kind of embarrassing to be alone. Wolffe’s batch mates were all in leadership, but as enlisted sergeants. He still hung around with them constantly. What a pack of clowns.
“Hi, are you in this drawer?” he climbed up the ladder and hit the button to extract his bunk, dropping his bedding once the drawer extracted.
“Oh, yeah, so you’re next to me?” I put down my notebook on my already made bed drawer.
“Yeah.” He put out his palm facing up. It’s a kind of non-threatening greeting we clones had developed. Things were tense, so gestures helped prevent us from sensing aggression and overreacting.
“Good to know you. I’m Kote.” I clapped his palm.
“Right, Cody.” He took out a little piece of paper and wrote it down.
I looked over at him from my bunk, “No, it’s K-O-T-E. It’s Mandalorian. I’m learning the language from the trainers.”
“Coat?” He cocked an eyebrow.
“No, Kote,” I spoke slowly.
“What I said. Cody.” He pointed at the paper and winked. “I’m Wolf.”
“Wolf. W-O-L-F,” I responded, sarcastically.
“Nah, W-O-L-F-F-E.” He grinned with teeth.
“What? That’s not how that’s spelled,” I objected.
“And Cody is not spelled ‘coat’.” He crossed his arms.
I could scarcely believe it. “Are you defective or something?”
“Why?” He genuinely seemed to have no idea.
I sighed. “Okay, Wolfuhfey. What’s your favorite of the IRC’s?” IRC’s, Invented Rituals of Competition, were the contests we had started having once we had some more freedom to move around the facility. Tests of strength and stamina, or outright combat. I was already a combat champion.
“I just got some guy to do my floor cleaning duty. He dared me to eat some maggots from the trash compactor,” he said without a trace of humility. “Easy stuff. I’ve done that tons of times.”
Combat IRC’s were dignified and earned you the respect of your peers. His type of competitions were juvenile. But still, a win was a win. He did prove he was strong and in some cases smart. I thought I remembered him from the day when we dissected aiwhas for survival class. Everyone threw up. I know I did, those damned things stink when they’re rotten. Wolffe just kind of stood there breathing through his mouth.
His four idiot batch mates showed up. He jumped off the bunk to stand with them, so I followed.
“Wolffe! Look, Trip won sugar rations!” one of them said, holding up a bag with sugar cubes inside.
“Cool! What did you do?” He slapped hands heartily with the one who was evidently Trip.
“I won at dice!” Trip declared proudly, holding up two aiwha tailbones and shaking them.
They divided the cubes and began to eat jovially. They even offered me one. I refused. The Kaminoans rationed our sugar because they didn’t want us to be overweight. Being out of shape would make us unfit for duty. I didn’t want the Republic to be ashamed of me.
Wolffe seemed to have a lot of datapads with him. So I asked, “So Wolffe, do you like to read?”
“Gotta do something. It gets boring here.” He took out a piece of paper and wrote something else down.
“I do a lot of reading for my optionals.” Our trainers offered optional classes, hand to hand combat, language, literature. “It’s great.” My study of Mandalorian culture with the trainers was pretty intensive.
“Eh.” He shrugged.
I couldn’t understand his apathy. These optionals had made me feel more complete, like I had an identity, just as the Kaminoan classes on the Republic gave me purpose.
I didn’t know how Wolffe had become a leadership cadet, he seemed unstable. So, while he and the guys ate their sugar, I quizzed him on weapons systems, tactical theory, different terrains and combat methods. He was shockingly good. He knew about things even I didn’t. Like he could see beyond mere facts and detect bigger patterns. I liked his differing perspective, when we would discuss things together. But as much as he could, he spent time among his idiots making jokes. He wasn’t defective, he was deliberately lazy.
Wolffe liked to torment me by asking me rather philosophical questions. I considered myself more practical than he was. I didn’t have time to sort out all his moral dilemmas. I followed the rules they gave us and that was good enough for me. There were important tasks at hand. I think he just questioned me to alleviate his own boredom.
Still, try as I might to dislike him, there was something undeniably attractive about his intellect. He always seemed to be in on any joke. It had often vexed me how much humor some of my brothers missed. Every time I found something funny, I would look in Wolffe’s direction and see his eyes laughing too. We became best friends because of this.
During the war, he muddled through the best he could. As usual, he did better than most with less effort. In the first six months of fighting, he was nearly killed a few times and was permanently disfigured when an assassin took his eye. Through it all, he survived and probably did more living than any of us. Before he left on what would be his last assignment of the war, he met me at 79’s for a drink to say goodbye. I didn’t know it would be forever. In hindsight, I realize he knew. He was giving away some of his possessions.
“Here you go, you old drunk. You always wanted a cool shirt like mine.” He tossed me one of his shirts. I had seen it before, it said, ‘Invented Rituals of Intoxication.’ He liked shirts that had his own little slogans on them. “You win the Invented Rituals of Intoxication lifetime achievement award in the event of drinking.” He raised his glass and took his shot. “You might want to wash it first,” he laughed, “I just used it to clean up this whore in the bathroom after a go.”
“I can’t believe you actually did that.” I spat.
“I’m just joking.”
“I meant removing your brain chip.” I was looking at his new head scar.
“Relax. Nobody cares.” He shrugged and looked sideways as if he wasn’t so sure.
“You don’t really believe what Rex said about a conspiracy?”
“Nah. I mean probably not. I just did it for him. Brother was in a world of hurt, he just needed someone to believe him.”
“That’s defacing military property. You could be court martialed.” I whispered angrily. We had always tried to keep each other out of trouble.
“What does it matter anyway? We’re all screwed.”
“I get so tired of your self-indulgent ennui, ner vod. Have some respect for yourself.”
“I’m self-indulgent? You know what, you pretentious ball gargler, sometimes I think you don’t care about anyone but you, and how you look to everyone.”
“So you want to teach me a lesson? Bring it on.” I knew he would back out. He still would never beat me in a fight, we both knew it. Fights for dominance in our society had been settled years before when we were kids in the cloning facility. There, a guy’s social rank was determined by competitions. The strongest guys were then more likely to be selected for leadership training, our early success had been significant in determining our futures. I had always been first.
“You don’t want to do that. This isn’t Kamino. You humiliate me here and it’s not going to make people respect you, they’ll just consider you a bully for beating up a sad old drug addict.”
“They already do.” I gave up. Although, we could have fought at 79’s if we’d wanted to, just for fun. By then, we clones were a bunch of brawlers. Our fights were almost a parody of what IRC’s had been. But he was right, nobody liked me. He was nice to everybody, he even stuck up for people, no matter how stupid, lowly, or degraded. Everyone in that hive of scum was lining up for his company.
“Well, stop being one. Stop trying so hard to make everyone fall in line. We’re just trying to survive here.”
“I have tried to defend us, too, but I always end up getting in trouble. You know, you’ve bailed me out of jail enough.” I threw up a hand.
“Well, try something more productive than beating up people who taunt us.”
“What more could I do?”
“I’d do anything I could think of. Like, tell General Kenobi what you really think. He’d have to listen. He loves you like a brother.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“Well, he’s a good person. He might help you fight our oppression if you asked him. At least, he won’t be able to ignore how bad it is for us.”
“I don’t want to fight the Republic,” I admitted, “General Kenobi says fighting puts us in danger right now.”
“What’s more dangerous than fighting the war?”
“I’m not sure, but he seemed to think there were worse fates that could have befallen us.” There were, we discovered, as many worse things were done to us after the war. “I’m not sure we can even trust the Jedi?” I took a drink.
“They do fight for us, you know. But they get stymied, too. General Plo has tried. General Skywalker. Bly said General Secura and Shaak-Ti tried to get the Kaminoans to admit some things they did to us. They didn’t succeed, but they all tried their best. Who knows, something might work some time. We need all the help we can get. Don’t you ever want to fight back?”
“I thought you said we were all screwed.”
“Just because I’m doomed doesn’t mean I give up.” He ran his hand over his hair then smiled weakly. I think he was starting to jones. Wolffe never spent a day without being on several drugs by then. Most of them were prescriptions issued to him by the army, but he did like his spice, too. He couldn’t function without them. “I’ve got to hit the head.” He stood up and walked towards the bathroom, but paused first to put his arm around my neck and to kiss my head jokingly, “Take care, Coat.” Then he walked off.
On the way back from the toilet, he got himself involved in a discussion with a bunch of brothers about an animated holo-vid program. He was so animated himself that I think he probably snorted something. I went back to the base and I didn’t see him before he left for Cato Neimoidia. There, his Jedi general was killed by his fighter pilots. Wolffe was listed as Missing in Action after the battle. There was no telling what that really meant, like I said, with him, anything was possible.
Rex was my closest brother during the war, or ever, I guess. He and I started off that conflict so much alike it was eerie. We were brothers who considered soldiering a calling. It’s not so hard to believe we felt drawn to the military, we clones were engineered specifically for that life. But, in addition to being extremely talented, Rex and I also both loved what we were doing. Work never seemed like work to us. We were the clones that practically led the Grand Army of the Republic through its creation.
Rex and I spent a lot of the war together, working for Kenobi and Skywalker, who, as master and pupil, were practically a family. Rex was the only clone I used to call ‘little brother’. It is a closer, more affectionate title than the general ‘brother’, which to us means ‘clone’. I intentionally used a familial title to honor the fact that Rex was the only other clone I considered to be a warrior of my caliber.
We actually met in hand to hand combat classes, Mandalorian martial arts lessons offered as an optional in the academy. He was six months younger than me, so I was larger and stronger. But as soon as he was in class, he gained a reputation for being a winner. I had been recognized as the best from the first class. It was inevitable that our trainers would decide that a competition had to be settled. At least in class, the spar would have rules so that neither of us would get too damaged. My teacher, Cabur Zyne, told me I would be sparring Rex, who was Angus Trask’s student. On the day of the spar, I walked into the changing room and saw Rex there taping his knuckles. He looked completely serious, but he was small and skinny. He was not even six. His physiology left him looking like a boy of fifteen. I changed into my sparring uniform. I was physiologically about seventeen. Mentally, I had tested as a man of thirty.
“I’ll try not to hurt you too badly today.” I told him in all seriousness. This was going to be no contest. I was trying to show concern. After all, there were no hard feelings, I didn’t want to hurt him. We hadn’t decided on this competition, our trainers had.
He just kept taping, never responding or even looking up, like he hadn’t heard me. He looked like any clone his age. Same academy haircut. Tiny scars here and there. Nothing that stood out. He looked up at me, finally, and looked me in the eyes defiantly. “Don’t hold back,” he said in a level tone. Then he stalked out.
When class began, we stood on the mat in the circle. We both bowed to the other. The teachers didn’t make a big deal out of the competition, but our brothers in the class were buzzing with anticipation. They were excited to see it settled. ‘Who would win in a fight’ was a favorite game around the facility and people, both brothers and trainers, had already placed bets on the outcome.
“Begin,” the referee ordered.
We both began to circle. Size up your enemy was strategy 101. We both searched the other for weaknesses, openings where we could land a strike. He betrayed none. He was quick on his feet, my steps were heavier. He struck at my left ribcage, I blocked and got a hit to his left thigh, hard enough to leave a bruise. The referee of the fight counted me a point. We circled again. I landed a thumping kick to his right shoulder with my left leg. He held his shoulder for a second and looked at me angrily. I was getting to him. Eliciting his emotions. I racked up the small points, let his anger build. Then, when he was angry, he would waste energy and I could dispatch him. It always worked with my opponents, most brothers were too immature to have control of themselves. I was surprised by how easily Rex was going down, his reputation really had made me expect more of him.
I got three more easy points hitting his chest and stomach. Nothing too hard, but I had five unanswered points. He circled slowly, I barely moved. I conserved energy and kept my focus on him, looking to detect his moves before they were made. Then, suddenly, I caught him glancing at my left side. I made ready to block him and grab the hand or foot to bring him off balance and throw him down. Suddenly, he spun and brought his leg down on my right side before I could react, he punched the left side of my face and caught my lip with another blow. I was spitting blood when we put up fists again. He’d fooled me. He’d seen how closely I was watching him and used that subtle glance to throw me off. He still had only three points to my five. But the blood had made me mad.
I pounded him senseless for the rest of the fight. Ten points to his three, but where he had bruises, I had a split lip and a cut on my eyebrow that required medical attention. I walked around the facility for a week with everyone asking me who had beaten me up. I tried to explain, but all people wanted to know was who had messed up Cody’s face. I won on points, but he had given the memorable performance. Technically, I had won the fight, but he had captured all the attention.
Rex was always popular. He just had charisma. I was actually jealous, sometimes. And he was heroic. Even as a kid, he was kind to everybody and was deeply principled. He took joy in his life because he truthfully believed his work had meaning. His pride was infectious.
The divergence between Rex and me came later in the war. He had drawn closer to the Jedi and shared their philosophies, despite not having their rights. They encouraged him to think of his fight as serving something beyond the Republic. His purpose was to serve others selflessly and to make sure they remained free. Yet, the longer the war went on, the more the Republic revealed that it was at odds with his ideals.
Rex’s last engagement of the war was on Mandalore. By then, he was unraveling. The last months had been tough. He truthfully had been losing his heart little by little as his losses mounted. I was still devoted to the Republic. It was broken, but I believed that it was fixable. He just seemed to have given up. Truth was, although I’d also been let down, there was never anyone much I cared about, so I didn’t feel things as personally. I cared about Rex, though. Losing him stung.
Our last conversation was after the briefing for the mission. I went to speak with Rex. I hadn’t seen him since he had removed his control chip, when he’d asked me and Wolffe to remove ours. The Republic had said that the chips were merely to make us safer. I wanted to try to reason with him. To let him hear my side so he wouldn’t feel so betrayed.
“Rex, I’m worried about you. I know losing Fives was hard.” Fives had been a brother he had mentored closely, who died, he believed, because he had discovered the truth about the chips. “But brother, please. Fives had a virus. The Kaminoan doctors said they discovered it when they did the autopsies on him and Tup. You know that. We all had the inoculation. All that other stuff, about Dooku creating us, that’s not real. Lying is what Sith do, so the Jedi say.”
“Stop talking to me like I’m crazy! I know what I know!” He spit back. “I can’t believe that you won’t listen. If there is even the slightest chance that Fives was right, would you risk it? Would you risk killing General Kenobi?”
“Rex, there is no chance of that happening. Stop saying things like that. Look, I’m just trying to get you to at least entertain the possibility that you have been under a lot of stress. That you might not be seeing things clearly or making the best decisions.”
“It’s not just about Fives! This planet we’re invading was nearly extinct from what war brought! And the suffering there never ends. When can we stop?”
“But Rex, we’re protecting innocent people. We always have.”
“So to save one people from devastation, we wipe out another? Who’s left then? And if we survive, how will anyone be able to trust each other again? We may have already gone too far!” He was talking like a Jedi.
“I’ll never trust Separatists! We have to beat them. They’ve killed millions of us!”
“The Death Watch, or this Shadow Collective, are not Separatists!” Rex corrected me about the upcoming mission.
“Same difference. The Death Watch are murderers, terrorists, and rapists, never mind the criminals in the Shadow Collective. The galaxy is better off without them.”
“So we exterminate them, what then? And what can we hope for? Either the peace begins and they have no use for soldiers, or the war goes on and we will keep dying. When is it enough?”
“We will be there when the peace is made. We will help make it and ensure this never happens again.”
“You honestly trust the Republic?”
“Don’t you?” I practically pleaded.
“Please, Rex, I’ll talk to General Kenobi, he can get General Skywalker to approve you for some leave time.”
He refused. I was worried he would get himself killed in that state. Indeed, he didn’t return from Mandalore. A grave was found and a mangled body was sent back to Coruscant. That part didn’t surprise me. I had thought Rex had gone shabla (messed up). It was only recently that someone told me that it was a ruse. What strikes me is how convincing he had been. It never occurred to me to doubt his death. Old Kenobi did something like that to us once. Rex really had learned a lot from him I guess, the old trickster.
With Rex gone, I tried to stay and make the Republic then Empire what we had thought it should be. But my heart was never really in it. I had always pictured Rex and me working together to expand and run the military after the war. Going on alone made my life feel kind of pointless, like I was numb. For years I was compelled to commit all manner of awful deeds in service to the Empire. They haunt me still. I have a lot of sins on my soul. If Rex is out there, I’d just want the chance to explain. I fear that Rex wouldn’t understand. Of sins, he had very few.
Though, if he’s alive, I think I’ll hear eventually. I don’t know what Rex serves now, but I know that he would never be able to give up fighting for the things he cared about. He had a big heart and felt too deeply. Rex would just have to find something or someone worth fighting for again. He’d be happier, though. I don’t think retirement would suit him. Once a warrior, always a warrior.
Gregor was one of the brightest cadets in enlisted leadership training in the academy. He was in the first class, but was destined to be a sergeant like Wolffe’s moronic batch mates. Unlike with them, I saw potential in Gregor. It was astonishing to be in class with him. He was a guy with a quick mind, more of a doer than a planner. He didn’t have an aptitude at test taking, so he wasn’t an officer, but he did make commando specialization. I had my eye on him early as a potential recruit for whatever outfit I would be charged with leading. He and Waxer, another smart one, were artists. I liked my potential recruits to gravitate towards creative expression, even if, like me, they weren’t talented at it. My Mando’a poetry was positively cringe worthy. I translated some once for Blue to make him laugh. That damned bastard read excerpts as a kind of a roast at my wedding reception. I still sustain never ending abuse over it. But it was funny. Even though art was not a military skill, per se, artists’ right brain function meant that they were inventive thinkers, so I considered Gregor’s talent to be an advantage to my outfit. Yes, I thought about that kind of thing. I was (and still am) a total strategy nerd.
The first time I had actually spoken to Gregor was early in our fifth year. Our conversation kind of stands out for me because it is one of the only things I can remember from that time. Very soon after, I suffered a traumatic experience and my mind blocked out a lot. It can be weird sometimes, like I can know that events happened one way but have no concrete recollection of having been there.
I do remember speaking to Gregor, though. We were pretty doped up on painkillers. I was there recovering from a training injury. He had just had surgery.
“What are you in for?” I asked him.
“Ruptured spleen. I got hit in a fight pretty bad.” He lifted his shirt to show an impressive bruise and a laser stitched scar.
“What was the fight about?”
He shrugged. “Trying to win some sugar rations.”
“Really? You still fight for that?” I was incredulous.
“What else is there?”
“I don’t know, proving who’s strongest?” I lowered my brow.
“What will that do?” He scowled.
I looked at him sidelong, “To earn respect. To get brothers to listen to you.”
“They’ll listen to me if I have something to say.”
I was dismissive. “Not always, people listen to some pretty stupid fish food, even if they would be better off listening to something more serious.”
“Hey, haven’t you noticed? Being entertaining is part of being an effective leader.”
“But not necessarily a responsible one.” His irreverence was vexing me, like Wolffe’s did. But I liked the challenge different perspectives provided to my mind.
“Why should people follow you if they don’t even like you?” he asked.
“Because I am stronger than they are and I have proven I’m competent.”
He shook his head at that. “Then what’s in it for them?”
“So since we’re stuck here, are you entertaining?” I asked.
“No. I’m afraid not.”
“Too bad. My bunk mate is entertaining.”
“I don’t know, like sometimes he sings to himself without knowing it.”
“Singing? What does that sound like?”
“Just kind of humming tones like aiwha calls. It’s weird. I guess he reads on music theory.”
“I wonder what music really sounds like. So what are you in for?”
“I got shot in the…leg by one of my squad mates.”
“No further questions.”
“Thanks for sparing my dignity.”
He looked around. “Hey, you know, this is the first time I think I’ve ever been in a room with just one other person.”
“I suppose that’s true for me, too.”
“Did you ever play cards?”
“It’s against the rules,” I reminded him.
He grabbed a notebook and began sketching a picture of his own foot sticking out of the sheet. “Hey, do you ever wonder if the Kaminoans are breeding us for food or something?”
“Why waste all the time training and educating us, when they could spend their time fattening us up?”
“Hm. Okay, maybe not food.” He chewed on the end of the pen. “But as like, a vehicle to some end. Like they’re making us to serve a purpose.”
“There is a purpose, it is to fight a war for the Republic.” I repeated what we knew from our loyalty classes.
“But, I mean, why us? Why make us? They could have had their conflicts without us, without causing us to come into being. We didn’t have anything to do with causing the war. But they chose to involve us.” He squinted.
“I assume to protect them.” I folded my hands.
“So their lives are more important than ours?”
“I mean…maybe because they know we’re the best qualified to protect them. Our genes and programming were intended to make us good soldiers. We’re the best at it. Our purpose means we matter. We are crucial to deciding the fate of the galaxy.”
“You do make a point,” Gregor considered. “You think they’ll ever give us anything to say thank you when we win? Like, do you think we’ll be allowed to have families someday, like the trainers talk about having? A lot of them have wives and children, they say they want to take the money they get from working here and bring it home. Will we be able to have those things if we do a good job?”
I had never really talked to anybody about what we would do beyond the war before. I admit, I didn’t have much of an imagination. “I wouldn’t consider it until after the war is won. No sense being distracted. Better to stay in the here and now.”
“Well, what about looking forward to the future? I think I’d like to have a woman. I’ve never seen them, but the way the trainers describe, they must be wonderful.”
“Truthfully, I haven’t given it much thought.” That was a lie. I had heard Mandalorian stories of the beautiful women in their legends, these amazing warriors and inspirations. There were stories and poems about women that we heard in our optional classes. I know I had dreams where I was with them. I was just too embarrassed to ask many questions. I’d put my uniform and sheets in the washing machine in the morning and do my best to forget about it.
I did recruit Gregor for the 212th. He had two engagements with us, during which he served impressively on the field of battle. He disappeared after a disastrous engagement on Sarresh. We took heavy casualties and the blockade of the planet was making it difficult to evacuate. Gregor’s medical shuttle was shot down and the Jedi leadership decided that it wasn’t worth mustering a search for just one soldier, especially one who was almost certainly dead. But instead, he was found by a total sleazebag and held as a slave in an awful spaceport on Abafar for over a year. He apparently had amnesia. When I was alerted to his location by Skywalker’s droid at the Republic Strategy Conference in the Carida system. So I sent my guy Boil to recover him on Skywalker’s semi-clandestine shit-box, The Twilight. I wasn’t allowed to send a military vessel. The ship broke down once Boil reached Pons Ora spaceport, so Boil and Gregor spent another month stranded there. According to Boil’s account, Gregor’s former slave owner had tried to take him back, but Boil had threatened to report the walking trash compactor to the Republic for theft of military property, so he left them alone.
Once they got picked up, Gregor came back to Coruscant and started to live as some kind of street person, sleeping at the base and officially on extended medical leave. I’d recommended it. I didn’t want him euthanized. I just couldn’t do it. His head injuries and his mistreatment that had reduced him to a sad state had all been incurred in service to the Republic. I mourned him whenever I saw him around.
Towards the end of the war, a few days before I left for Utapau, I saw Gregor with the head scar. I realized that he, like Wolffe and Rex, had removed his chip. I had to do something. I fully believed that any brothers who had no restraining chips were going to be arrested for treason any day, when the Republic realized they’d tampered with their heads. I couldn’t let the damned military police take Gregor to their interrogators. He didn’t know any better. I told Wolffe’s girlfriend C.C. to get him away somewhere. I took him to get his id pass to leave Coruscant. C.C. said later that Wolffe was trying to follow Rex and that she’d sent Gregor to find them, although she never said where. I hadn’t even wanted to know.
“Cody, why do you always have so much money?” Gregor nudged me as I turned over the credits to the guy who was making the id’s. The guy walked into the back to get his equipment.
“I don’t spend it frivolously.” I said in a low tone.
“Well, I have been selling surplus military hardware to the exiled Mandalorian houses.” I figured what the hell. Nobody would believe him if he told anyone.
“Since, I don’t know, the Battle of Muunilist.” I crossed my arms and leaned my back against the counter.
“Our first engagement?”
“We were told to leave a bunch of equipment as we were pulling out and I couldn’t believe the waste of the war. So I contacted some of my old trainers who were back with their houses and told them where to find the equipment. They came to Muun and picked it up. I made fifty thousand credits. I did that whenever I could.”
“What do you even have to spend that on? We clones can’t buy anything.” Gregor played with his cape.
“I’ve been funding causes I believe in.”
“Like getting my brother out of trouble when he acts stupid.” I rubbed my forehead with my palm.
“But, what do you do with the rest?”
“It’s for the future. You need means in this universe.”
“Who needs them?” he yawned.
“We all do, if we’re going to survive.” I turned as the guy came out from the back with a camera, “Gregor, I need you to get your picture taken for the id chip.”
“Alright, Commander. Hey, Cody?”
“Yes Gregor?” The guy took Gregor’s picture. Gregor was wearing a damned cape. Boil told me that he had wanted to buy one in Pons Ora. I can’t believe it, but Boil said they had a whole store for them. Abafar must have been strange.
“Where am I going?”
“I don’t know, Gregor. It keeps you safer if I have no idea. What do you want your name to be?”
“Sheev Palpatine,” he said assuredly.
“I think that will trigger a few red flags.” I looked at the proprietor, “Uh, Tem Morrison.”
Gregor turned to me. “Really? I thought mine was funnier.”
“That is not the point at all.” We sat down to wait while the id chip was being installed on the card. “So, Gregor, now maybe you’ll be able to find yourself a nice girl.” I was being sarcastic. He looked and smelled like shit.
“Yeah. You know I did have one once. I don’t remember as much about her as I’d like to.”
“When was this?” I turned to him.
“Back in Pons Ora. Nobody there had ever seen a clone, so nobody was afraid of me there. Not like here on Coruscant. Tessa thought I was just a guy who washed dishes at a shitty diner to pay off his debts. I had a shittier one room apartment in a basement that my boss said I couldn’t even afford on my salary. But Tessa liked me. She said I was cute. She’d come say hi to me at work, maybe buy a caf so she could talk to me as she drank it. She’d sometimes bring me little snacks and we’d lean against the wall in the alley at the back exit and eat together. That was where she first kissed me. I guess she was a slave who someone had bought and freed to marry so she could live with him. But she said the guy’s liver was failing. He was old and was passed out most of the time from drinking. A couple of times, she could even sneak out for the night to stay with me. It was really nice, to have somebody like me. And want me. She felt good.”
Gregor had my full attention. I found it astonishing sometimes how many of my brothers actually found what sounded like love. We never had much to offer women. Gregor certainly hadn’t. I’d had sex with dozens of women, but I’d never known a single one who cared about me at all. It had always made me feel kind of defective. “What happened to her?”
“Well, that frog came along and convinced me to help him and those canister robots hijack a shuttle. I got hit in the head again in an explosion. I had no way out of Pons Ora, so I went back to my apartment and threatened Borkus with my blaster when he came and tried to make me go back to work. Boil showed up a few days later and told me we were going to need a way to contact the fleet. I told him there was none, that’s why Frog had taken the shuttle. We had to wait until we could hail something with his weak comlink. Tessa came around to see me as soon as she could, but Boil told her to go away. That I was needed at the front. She asked whether I couldn’t just stay and he could go back to say he couldn’t find me. She said she didn’t want me to die, that we might be able to be together someday.”
“What did you say?”
“Boil out-ranks me, sir. I didn’t think I could say anything.”
My heart felt punched. I think if it had been me, that wasn’t what I would have done. “What would you have wanted to say? If you could?”
“I honestly don’t know. I have never thought about that. I think it would hurt to know, don’t you? To think about what I didn’t do? I’m glad there are a lot of things I can’t remember.”
I envy him that, sometimes.
The man behind the counter handed me the card and I gave it to Gregor. “Here, your touristic id. Just don’t mention anything about the army, or about clones, and you should be fine. Don’t give them any reason to be suspicious.”
“But won’t they recognize me?”
“You know, for all the people that ever looked at us, I’d say almost nobody in the galaxy will recognize a clone out of uniform.”
“I know. Okay, be at 79’s tonight. Bly is going to take you to the station.”
“Okay. Thanks Cody.”
“Take care of yourself Gregor.” I shook his hand.
I don’t know if he did. I don’t know if he could. His wits tended to come and go. I was never sure if he even remembered me after that.
I know why Rex and the others might not want to find me. Early on, the Empire hunted down brothers who deserted. They rarely took any chances with letting clones try to claim their lives for their own. They weren’t happy until we were completely broken. After the end of the war, I had worked for years as a cog in their machine.
Though, even then, I saw the wrong that was being done. I rationalized it as a necessity, even after they threw me out here to help oversee our people’s extermination. I could have accepted it. It would have been easier and certainly safer for me. I didn’t have much of a life, but at least I was a ruler of sorts. Since I was in charge of the prison, I could have done any selfish thing I wanted. Sometimes it’s easier to do what you know is wrong rather than to admit weakness. Giving in would have been easy. And I didn’t. That has to count for something.
I suppose I want people I care about to know that I’ve done what I can. I have made us a refuge. Besides my brothers, the other former guards and the maintenance corps prisoners, some other people have actually joined us voluntarily. We just had another wedding last week. I protect our people any way I can. Most of our dangerous activities take place in space or on other planets. I try not to bring business home too often. I may not always have done what’s right, but I’m trying to look after our people, now.
I am an effective leader, still, I see a value in having men like Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor, with different perspectives . In some senses they might be saner than any of us. Those guys might be the only pure clones left. If they can tell us their stories, we might hope to be exonerated of our greatest crime. It would feel good to have the truth finally come out. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to hide anymore. I understand why my brothers might feel that they were at odds with me, but I think we ultimately want the same things. Together, we will perhaps be able to change how the universe perceives us. So we can make the peace after a war that bore our name, and be sure that what happened to us never happens again.