The Face of Fett Lives
"The clone army! The clones are coming!" Kan heard Adriaan shout as the landing craft zoomed over them.
The battle droids began to fire at them. The Jedi exploded into movement, deflecting the fire back.
"Clones? Which side are they on?" Jordin yelled back as she plunged her weapon down to the hilt into the control panel of a droid.
"Look!" Kan said, pointing toward the leading ship. A small, greenish-blue figure, clothed in drab gray and leaning on a gimer stick, was standing in the passenger hold, surveying the arena below him.
"Yoda!" Kan screamed, even though he knew no one could hear him above the roar of the battle. "Yoda has arrived!"
Aedan also spotted the familiar, comforting, pointy-eared figure perched inside the craft. He grinned as he chopped a Geonosian in half. "WICKED!"
Adriaan swung at a droid, kicking out with her left foot in the opposite direction. Her toe grazed a droid and sent it flying. Master Okiwa was right behind her, reinforcing her moves and watching her back. A Geonosian flew for Nadma's head, only to be blasted into oblivion by a shot from Padmé.
The clone's battle craft landed in a circle, creating a protective barrier that separated the Jedi from the droids. The hatch on the ship closest to Kan opened, revealing a space large enough to hold several passengers. Kan hopped on board, swiftly followed by Aedan, Jordin, Terry, Na'thin, Kien, Minir, Jahn Pal and Sai'wer. Adriaan slowly backed up, deflecting the blasterfire coming at them from all directions. One foot lifted up onto the ship. A droideka uncoiled and moved for Adriaan, firing a barrage of swift, deadly blasts. Adriaan deflected faster to keep up, her lightsaber a mere blur as she swung in a complicated pattern that looked as if she were a hologram in fast forward. Her other foot stepped on board. "Take off!" she yelled as a cannon blast imploded right by her ear, dangerously rocking the ship with the impact.
A man in white body armor, masked by a helmet similar to Jango Fett's Mandalorian suit, saluted to her over several Wicked Club member's heads.
Adriaan ducked as a laser bolt zoomed for her neck. It missed her by millimeters and pinged off some machinery overhead. "Are you on our side?" she asked, cocking an eye at him suspiciously. Kan wondered if she, too, noticed the verisimilitude to the deceased bounty hunter. There was possibly a natural explanation for the similarities, of course. Perhaps Mandalorians had cloned them.
But the Mandalorians were warriors, not cloners. Besides, they're nearly extinct, and those left are pacifists now.
The clone trooper nodded. "The Republic has purchased our army," he said in a crisp, no-nonsense voice. Kan wasn't sure whether he liked the voice. It was strong, metallic, hard, as if their really wasn't anything behind the blank mask he wore. An empty suit of body armor. "We are under command to follow your orders, sir."
"Under my orders?" she asked incredulously.
"The highest ranking Jedi to enter a vehicle is in immediate command," he explained respectfully. "It is obvious that these children are Jedi Apprentices. That makes you the commander here. Its under orders, sir."
"Indeed," Adriaan said with a voice tinged with sarcasm. "What are you called?"
"We are addressed by our number," he said. "My number is CT-6\721, and our pilot is CT-4\258."
The pilot looked up from the controls in the bubble-like cockpit and nodded in greeting.
"We're preparing for immediate takeoff," CT-4\258 told them. His voice sounded hollow from inside the transparisteel enclosure.
Kan glanced out at the battle ring. Droid parts, smashed Geonosian bodies and bloodied bodies littered the floor. The enemies that had not fallen yet were rapidly firing at the departing gunships. A blast streaked past him and bounced off the ship's hull with a sharp metallic clang. "You bet we're taking off!" he yelled.
"WICKED!" Aedan shouted as the gunship pulled out of the arena and shot into the blood-colored sky to safety.
Or so Kan had hoped. Now he saw that they were far from safety–––down below the ships were landing into an assembly area. Batteries of ground assault units had been transported by the clone army, and already Kan could see Jedi getting off the rescue ships to take command of the clone infantry units. Obviously, the battle was just in an interval of rest, at least until the Separatists marched out of their stronghold to overtake the Jedi.
"Where are we going?" Jordin asked.
Kan watched Adriaan warily. No stiffening of the back or inclination of her head suggested that she heard Jordin. Her shoulders were squared, the muscles in her neck tightening. Kan began to feel uncomfortable. They had failed. They had been discovered. Soon would come the first of, no doubt, many lectures. Come on, turn around, just get this over with.
Adriaan whirled around so vehemently that Jordin gaped in surprise while the younglings behind her took a step backward. "WE are about to split up," she said evenly, punching each syllable into the air. She turned to the trooper. "I need to get these kids off-planet and on the fastest route possible back to Coruscant, where they belong."
"What?" Jordin said.
"GOOD!" The Wicked Club protested.
Only Kan remained silent. Now that it was over, he didn't care about what happened now. During the battle he hadn't had the time to think about his Master, but now the grief stared to escape from the prison he had built for it inside him and it filled his heart, threatening to choke him. The thought of living without the gentle guidance of his Master seemed impossible. Yet now it was true. He had been bad, terrible ––– he had disobeyed his Master, and the whole Council, who had trusted him to keep his promise. Instead he had broken it, and he had had many opportunities to turn back, but instead he had been obstinate and had continued through with his disobedience to the limit, until it was he who had caused the death of Ruru ––– Ruru, who had been innocent, while Kan had been so wrong. He dreaded the thought of facing the Temple when he got home. He dreaded enduring the long endless hours of hyperspace, feeling the torment of the knowledge that he was responsible for the death of someone whom he had treated like the father he had never had. What would his friends think of him now ––– he, the quiet and obedient Apprentice, now without a Master and without the benefits of being on the good side of the Council? He gagged.
Adriaan's keen ears must have caught the sound he had made in his throat, for her gaze swerved and fixed on him in an unnerving, unblinking stare. Strangely, her gaze suddenly reminded him of a wildcat's, with the weird black and green flecks in her irises, narrowed, slit-like pupils. Kan quickly looked down, afraid to meet the startling blue eyes that were flicking over him as if he were a lab experiment. He let out a sigh of relief when she finally turned around. "Well? What ships do you have available?"
"I can contact the ground commander now, sir," CT-6\721 offered. "He will find you a transport right away, sir."
"Stop calling me 'sir'" Adriaan broke in impatiently. "I'm a girl."
"Well then, yes, ma'am."
"And don't call me 'ma'am' either," she said. "People that call me 'ma'am' creep me out. It's something about the…I don't know, the servility, I guess, that gets on my nerves."
"I'm sorry, ma'am," CT-6\721 said. "It's against orders to refer to you without your proper title. It's rebellious. I'm sorry, ma'am."
CT-6\721 switched on his wrist comlink, speaking a few inaudible words into it as he did so. Kan heard the device crackle as the commander sent back a transmission. After a few more words of conference, the clone turned off his comlink and turned back to Adriaan.
"There is a ship available for departure, master," he said. "The Jedi Apprentices can board as soon as we land."
"Good," Adriaan said.
"Yes, GOOD," the Wicked Club murmured sulkily.
The ship circled the area once, then descended. "This is where we stop, kids," Adriaan said gruffly. "Hop off."
The Padawans disembarked grumpily.
"And I didn't even get to find my WICKED massiff so I could bring it back home with me," Aedan griped.
Adriaan raised an eyebrow at him. "Don't tell me that you actually caught one of those things."
"Yep," Aedan answered proudly. "And I WICKEDLY trained it, too."
She folded her arms across her chest. "Okay, kid, let's get this straight. You caught, trained and named this massiff that you somehow acquired during your trip to the arena, and now you don't have it. Where did it go? I thought you said that you 'trained' it."
He smirked insidiously. "It got pretty hungry watching all those GOOD flying bugs.…"
"Hungry?!" Adriaan said. "Aedan, what were you going to feed that wild creature after you got back home?"
"I find WICKED ways to feed all of my pets," Aedan said.
"He has a baby krayt dragon, and some pit beasts," Terry said.
"Miniature," Minir added. "Genetically altered so they can't grow to full size. We get them on a discount from a dealer a couple levels down."
"You aren't supposed to be out of Temple grounds without permission," Adriaan pointed out.
"There are ways…" Kien said vaguely.
Adriaan huffed and whirled around. " All of this is pointless. I'm glad that thing ran off."
"NOT!" Aedan screamed. "It did not turn GOOD and run! He WICKED! And he will return to me," Aedan added in a softer voice. "I will make sure of that."
"How can you?" Adriaan asked mockingly.
But Aedan was serious. "The WICKED ones always return to me."
Adriaan said nothing. Without a backward glance, she stormed over to the forward command center, where the clone commanders had gathered to survey the battle. She strode to the commander, distinguished with yellow markings on his helmet, indicating his rank, and she spoke a few words to him. She looked once in their direction, nodded, then stomped off, making her way quickly toward a group of Jedi holding a hasty conference.
The Apprentices sat down, feeling dejected. No one even bothered to look in their direction. No doubt they all thought that the Padawans didn't even exist. CT-4\258 and CT-6\721, the only clones that they knew by name, or rather number, had seemingly disappeared after they had reported to their commander and had joined the endless ranks of white-uniformed soldiers.
A sharp tap on his shoulder made Kan turn around. Jordin jerked her chin in the direction of the clone Adriaan had spoken to earlier. He was waving at them to come over. They got up and practically ran him over ––– they were only too happy to have someone, at least, acknowledging that they were here and that they needed help. The commander gazed down at them from the slits on the black, T-shaped eye piece on his helmet, his face unreadable behind the expressionless mask. Kan began to wonder whether clones had any emotion at all–––maybe they didn't inherit feelings from their host. The sight of the clones ––– it triggered his memory, as if he'd seen them before. He'd seen someone stand like the commander did ––– calm, placid, and cold. As Kan looked around, he began to notice how they all hefted their weapons, how they held a blaster rifle, how they stood completely motionless and just stared at you…
He watched as a clone began to clean his utility belt with a practiced, methodical hand as he polished it with a dark-colored rag. Satisfied with the results, he began to remove his helmet with the intent of wiping the dirt from the T-mask. Then the trooper happened to glance up, revealing a hard, battle-scarred face.
Kan gasped. The clone was an exact copy of Jango Fett!
His eyes were wide as he exchanged a look with Jordin. Her gaze quickly zoomed back to the clone, her face pale. She, too, noticed the resemblance to Jango, the bounty hunter for the Separatist cause. And now that he thought of it, even the white suits of the clones were similar to the silver and blue Mandalorian armor.
But the question was, if they were copies of Jango Fett, then what were they doing here, fighting for the Republic? If Jango was the original host, the one whose DNA was used to create these fighting machines, why did they rescue the Jedi, who were obviously an enemy of the Separatists? Hadn't Jango killed Ruru? And hadn't Jango himself been killed by a Jedi Master?
The only side a bounty hunter fights for is his own.
It was an old saying, and everyone knew it well. Mercenaries weren't politicians. Many political leaders pushed for bans on bounty hunters, forbidding them access to their planets. Bounty hunters worked for a cause only if they were guaranteed an adequate reward for their services. And for the most part, they worked alone; teaming up with each other usually ended with a bloody fight over the credits rewarded to them. Was it possible that Jango Fett was getting paid large sums of credits for contributing his genetic material to the clone army being created for the Republic, and at the same time being paid even more credits to work for the opposite cause ––– for the Separatists? Or maybe he didn't know who the army was being built for; maybe they had been meant for Count Dooku, but the cloners had given the army to the Jedi instead. Jedi protection was worthwhile. But Jango and an accomplice had been hired to assassinate Senator Amidala. He had killed his fellow mercenary when the Jedi got too hot on his trail. So Jango had been capable of all of this.
But if he was capable of all this, or it was all just a mistake made by the cloners, then why am I getting the feeling that something is not right here?
The commander saluted stiffly. "Jedi Master ell Talaan has requested immediate passage off-planet for you," he said crisply. "You will be escorted by clone CT-2\110." He indicated a lesser trooper standing near him. CT-2\110 jerked his thumb toward a cruiser a few hundred meters away. It was a Pelta-class frigate, almost brand-new. Aedan and the Wicked Club looked at it with distaste.
"GOOD-looking," they muttered.
"Yes, sirs," CT-2\110 agreed.
CT-2\110 strode up the ramp. "Stay here while we conduct the preflight check for you, sirs. It won't be long."
The clone disappeared into the hold.
Aedan signaled to the rest. "Quick, here's our chance to WICKEDLY run for it!" he said, edging away.
"You're going to what?" Jordin asked.
"No talk. WICKEDLY run!" Na'thin said as the Wicked Club raced after their leader. Before they could react, Terry had swiftly grabbed both Kan and Jordin by the arm, dragging them away from the ship. Jordin lifted up her free hand and slapped it across his face, but he took no notice. "We can't run off again!" she said furiously, kicking him in the shins. He bared his teeth and nearly pulled her arm out of the socket as he doggedly continued to lead them away. Kan reached out a hand, calling upon the Force, and Terry was suddenly levitated a few meters from the ground. The Wicked Club scrambled back to help their comrade, and they soon had Kan and Jordin surrounded.
"GOODS! Be WICKED!" Aedan said, urging them on.
"Come on, Terry, knock those GOODS out!" the rest of them screamed.
"We're not going to forfeit what chances we have with the Council by running away again," Kan told them.
Terry, still suspended in midair, grinned, staring at something over Kan's shoulder. "If you don't run now, the GOODS are gonna make it blow."
"Make wha –––"
Suddenly he felt a puff of warm air on his neck. An ear-shattering blast rent the air, and everyone sank into silence, their gazes fastened on the ship behind him. He felt them all stiffen, and he released Terry and forced his head to turn and look that way, too.
A Separatist tank sent another deadly shot toward the smoking ship, and it was all over. With a terrific BOOM, what had been their passage to Coruscant was now a flaming, smoking heap of debris, not even fit for Jawa scavengers.
Fresh troops quickly poured in, taking stock of the situation, efficiently putting out the roaring fire with their equipment. A laser blast from a ground assault cannon easily dispatched the Separatist vehicle. No one noticed the nine weary, soot-covered Padawans huddled in the dirt. Perhaps adults didn't really see kids as they were; children were part of the scenery, the background. They couldn't do what adults could do. Maybe they were all too busy to bother taking responsibility for them. The Apprentices were not supposed to be here, after all. Why should they be noticed?
Kan took a deep breath. If they hadn't disobeyed poor CT-2\110 and had run away, they would have blown up with the ship. Yet even though their lives were saved, they had been saved by committing a misdeed; disobedience, a serious crime for an Apprentice. And here they were, untouched, alive and well. It didn't make sense.
Good repays good, and evil repays evil.
Sooner or later, their actions would be answered for.
Adriaan saw the ship explode before anyone else did, because her gaze happened to wander right to the spot just as it had been hit. Before anyone else could retaliate, she had already whipped out her comlink was rapidly dialing the number code for the command center.
"Troops marching out…ready to attack…" the comlink crackled.
"Commander," Adriaan cut in. "We've spotted a casualty in sector 127. Pelta-class frigate. Destroyed by enemy forces. Do you copy?"
"We have…ship destroyed…droid army marching…" the clone said through the static. "We've sent a squad…situation covered…Master Kenobi and his Apprentice MIA…Senator Amidala…Yoda departing on ship L251…"
"That's not my problem," Adriaan said impatiently. "I need to know if anyone survived the explosion in sector 127. The ship is a Pelta-class cruiser. What are you getting in the readings?"
There was a slight pause in the transmission. The comlink crackled again as the commander came through. "Situation covered…no survivors…Separatist communications jammed…"
Adriaan felt the blood drain from her face. She could see them now, those silly, naïve Apprentices, sprawled among the flaming rubble…
The commander was saying something more, doubtless something important, but she couldn't understand what he was saying through all the static. She didn't want to know. Frustrated, she switched off the transmission.
Everyone I seemed to have an attachment to was killed. So subtly, I never knew until it was too late…
She saw Siri striding toward her, and she quickly shut the thoughts away in her mind. "Adriaan," she said urgently. "The droid army is marching out."
Adriaan's gaze followed the columns of troopers, an infinite torrent of bodies encased in white, speckled with the shining black of blaster rifles. Her eyes went out over their heads to a brown speck on the horizon. Adriaan shielded her eyes to see clearer.
Her eyebrows shot up over her forehead. The commander had been right. The Separatists did not dare to let them escape so easily; it would have been too big of a blow. They had their pride and their reputations here at stake. They had sent Trade Federation droid reinforcements to gain the upper hand. Already, Adriaan could make out the forms of spider droids, droidekas, and assault vehicles silhouetted against the red landscape. The spherical space battle freighters were slowly rising from their docking bases, anxious to get out into space and block off the Jedi's escape.
She couldn't ignore this. She had volunteered to lead this squad, and if she failed, she would fail in everything in the Jedi's point of view. The disappearance of the Padawans was her responsibility, but so was the leading of the clone squad. She felt torn.
You shouldn't feel torn. Stop pretending. They are dead. Don't deny it.
I have to deny it. I will deny it until there is proof that they are truly gone.
You will probably find them where you are going.
She turned to Siri. "What's up with the comm signal here?" she asked. "I called the command center, but I couldn't get a clear transmission. Did our clone units jam their communications?"
Master Tachi nodded. "Yes. We had to cut the Seps from all forms of communication to prevent reinforcements from arriving. The reception is bad, though, because of the atmospheric disturbances that occur daily on this rock world. But you should be able to get a clear transmission now."
"Okay," she already had her comlink out and was punching in the command center code for thesecond time that day. She waited impatiently for someone to come through. "I'm a littleperturbed about those space freighters ––– if they get out of the atmosphere, we could be in really big trouble once we get into space. The escape has to be clean if we want to make it back to Coruscant."
Just then the transmission was picked up from the other end. "Commander?" she rapped out. "Take your assault walkers and have them concentrate all their firepower on the nearest Separatist starship. Repeat, concentrate all firepower –––"
A few seconds later, Adriaan grinned with satisfaction as a battery of ground assault vehicles ––– SPHA-T's ––– shot down one of the immense enemy spacecraft. Her comlink signaled, and she switched it on holomode. This time, it was not the command center, but another Jedi Knight like herself, Aayla Secura.
"Great minds think alike," she remarked drily. A female Twilek renowned for her skills with the Force, Aayla's intelligent, attractive aqua blue face stood out on the screen, her yellowish eyes gazing at Adriaan with obvious respect. "Yoda gave the same command to blow the starships a few seconds after your squad started to fire. The droid army is retreating. Well done."
"I'll be down with them shortly." Adriaan said. Her body suddenly felt very warm underneath all the praise. It wasn't often that a fellow Knight like Secura would compliment her. She paused for a moment. "Master?" she asked. "There were nine students who somehow managed to come along. I got them on a direct flight back to the Temple, but it exploded." And they weren't on it, she added to herself.
There was a brief pause in the transmission. "Are you saying you think that they never got on?" Aayla asked finally.
"Yes," Adriaan admitted. "Those kids are more than they seem. I called the command center, but the reports say there were no survivors. But I don't feel anything. If they were dead, I would have felt something."
"I'll keep a lookout for them," Aayla promised.
"I will, too," Siri said. "This is no place for them to be."
Adriaan felt relieved. She had felt so alone, with all of her friends dead or just gone. She felt unready, too immature to be what she was. She was grateful for Aayla's and Siri's help. It payed to have a friend as powerful as Secura.
She tucked her comlink into her utility belt. She stood alone, facing the departing army of the Separatists. The Republic was not going to let them go so easily, however. There were still too may droids left. She turned to her clones that were, as always, standing stiffly at attention right behind her.
"Let's get 'em, boys," she said.