“Glory!” so the song said. “One indomitable heart, Brothers all. We, the wrath of Coruscant, Brothers all. And glory, eternal glory. We shall bear its weight together. Forged like the saber in the fires of death, Brothers all.”
A number of people would probably disagree, but in the honest opinion of CT-4214, the chant was a load of osik. Or a load of crap, if you preferred Olden Basic.
He and every single other clone were fed the same images of a singular sprawling city. Skyscrapers went beyond the horizon while steady streams of vehicles moved amongst the towering structures. Other pictures showed an ornate fortress at the center of all of it. The Senate, it was called, with platforms that levitated where all the important galactic decisions were made. Clone troopers were supposed to protect all of these bigshots, to be the “wrath of Coruscant.”
But none of the clones have even met any of those politicians. None of them have ever tasted the cool air of Coruscant’s atmosphere. None of them can understand why there wasn’t already a military to protect the planet. All they could comprehend were the pictures and the captions and how things were supposed to be. The only thing to compare it all to was the dull rain and oceans Kamino was well-known for.
Ever since CT-4214 was able to discern thought and feeling, ever since he could consciously open his eyes and breathe outside of that dark, insufferable tank, he couldn’t let go that first taste of life.
His first memory was of a cold prison, and it hasn’t changed by much.
Nevertheless, he continued to sing the song, Vode An, in his head as he walked the empty halls of Tipoca City. There was a dramatic feel to it, after all. If there was one thing he liked about this whole Grand Army of the Republic business, it was their kick-ass theme music.
As CT-4214 entered the refresher, his humming paused as he listened to the noise of swishing water. No one was at the sinks. The sound was coming from one of the stalls. The clone went prone and did a quick sweep under each stall’s door. A pair of feet, too small for a teenager or adult, was pressing hard against the smooth floor behind one door. Whoever it was, he must be trying to pull something out of the latrine with how his feet were moving. A puddle of water was building right beside him.
Opening the stall, CT-4214 let the sight of a boy no more than ten years old struggling to free his head out of the toilet settle in. After a quick internal debate, 4214 gave a sigh and a headshake.
“Bob’ika, you alright?”
Unintelligible muttering was the reply. However, if he was muttering and not choking, that meant he wasn’t drowning, which was a good sign.
Why am I always the one getting myself into these situations?
With a little effort and a little humility on Little Boba’s part, CT-4214 managed to pull the younger clone out. Boba Fett spat out some residual toilet water, coughing a little before shoving pasa 4214 to get to the sink. He rinsed his face, practically submerged as he let the water flow all over his cranium.
“Are you okay, sir?” the elder clone asked, handing the boy some paper towels from a nearby dispenser. “What happened?”
“It was nothing,” Boba snapped. He rubbed the towels hard against his skin, leaving irritable red marks. “It was just Ordo and the Nulls being a bunch of shab–“ Boba abruptly paused, turning away.
“Taun We trying to get you to tone down the language?”
“Yeah,” the kid said with a scowl. Give it another ten years, and that frown would be the spitting image of his buir. Daddy Jango would be proud of his son. “Thanks for the help, Pawn.”
CT-4214, nicknamed Pawn, lightly pushed Boba a step toward the door. “Better get to bed soon, Bob’ika. You’ll need to get up bright and early if you want to plot your revenge on those Nulls.”
The Fett heir neglected to say anything back, probably too embarrassed or too pissed at the Null ARCs to respond. Pawn just gave another reassuring pat on the back before he walked out through the door way.
Next time Pawn ran into Ordo during their off-hours, he’s going to have to sucker punch the Null or something. Just because Sergeant Skirata gave those ARCs special treatment doesn’t mean they could bully Boba like that.
Pawn made his way back to his regiment’s barracks, back to the series of cramped pods stacked in columns and rows that were only just big enough to fit your average sized clone trooper. CT-4813, Pawn’s squad mate, made a joke once about them all being action figures kept in mint condition. Clone Sergeant Dice just told the two to wait till they were finally deployed into battle. Then they’ll get to all dirtied up and experience some real action. Pawn couldn’t wait.
Coming into the dimly lit barracks, cold as always, Pawn was surprised to see a certain malformed clone still awake. “99,” Pawn greeted with a nod. “Why are you still up?”
99, hunched back and wrinkled skin and all, turned away from the datapad he was using and smiled goodheartedly at his brother. “Hey, Pawn. Just finishing up some chores.”
“Need any help?” Guy like you needs your rest.
“Nah, it’s fine. These old bones need some exercise anyway.” Pawn rolled his eyes as 99 continued to smile. “Soixante Squad is moving out of Tipoca City tomorrow, going to the garrison south again, right?”
“Yes sir.” Pawn approached the ladder to his sleeping cot. 99 gave a slap against the trooper’s back.
“No need to be so formal, Pawn. Just try to get some sleep tonight. You and everyone else is going to be pretty busy with the move and everything.”
“I know, I know,” Pawn waved off. He stopped for a moment as he reached his cot, swerving his head to glance at 99. The man still wore his benign smile, reassuring no matter what the situation. “You keep trekking on, soldier. Stay alive until we get back.”
99 laughed. It’d be the last time Pawn would hear that raspy but powerful laugh in the foreseeable future. “You too, Pawn,” he said, “you too.”
Forget “wrath of Coruscant.” Vode an, brothers all; that was what mattered.
A shove to the shoulder brought him back to reality. “Pawn, you ready?”
Pawn turned to the inquiring clone, their voices kept low. “Yeah, Jester, just reminiscing about Kamino.”
Jester chuckled. “Now why are you dreaming about that shab of a place? Gotta stay focused on the job, vod, or Slick will have your hide.”
Pawn sighed. “Yeah, yeah, I know. You just focus on keeping your gun clean.”
“Hey,” Jester responded defensively, “I thought you’d stop teasing me about that.”
“I’ve already asked Slick about again.”
“Just shut up.”
Squad Fourteen – dreadfully unoriginal name, in Pawn’s opinion – quietly conversed with each other in the office room. Most of the clone squad was on their feet, anxious to get this ambush devised between Generals Kenobi and Skywalker underway. Cody and his team were at the skyscraper across from Squad Fourteen’s, scouting the oncoming droids on the bridge below.
“Lay off him, vod,” clone trooper Cypher nudged Pawn. “Jester built that blaster all by himself back on Kamino. It takes a lot to hold on to that thing for, what, eight years?”
“I’d say it’s a sign of psychopathy in the poor boy.”
Jester let out a fatigued groan and wandered off from the two as Pawn smiled at his retreating backside.
Pawn glanced at another of their brothers, Livewire. He was standing near the boarded up window with General Skywalker and Captain Rex. Livewire was doing calibrations with the cannon the squad had brought up, locked and loaded to rain hell on those clankers. But, if Pawn and Cypher had their way, Livewire have been standing tall with the rest of their brothers instead of isolating himself with extraneous work. He was never the same after Geonosis.
“Stow the chatter, gentlemen,” Rex spoke up. Immediately, all side conversations ceased. “Get ready, men. Tinnies are almost here.” Pawn straightened his back and tightened his grip on his DC-15A rifle. He, Cypher, and Jester crowded behind Rex and Skywalker. Rex turned to Livewire and the cannon while Skywalker kept his gaze on the droids.
A hand placed itself on Pawn’s shoulder. He turned to see Slick’s unhelmeted face giving him an apprehensive look. “No jokes, Pawn,” he ordered sternly. “Chopper’s doing his whole ‘lone wolf’ routine already. I don’t need you acting up either.”
“Of course, Sergeant!” Pawn responded in a false upbeat tone, sounding almost offended. Slick had other matters to deal with, so he just pointed a finger menacingly at Pawn before turning to the rest of the squad.
“Insubordination again, Private?”
Internally, Pawn sighed. He made eye contact with Rex. “A sense of humor does not constitute as insubordination, sir.” The Captain gave his own copyrighted brand of a lecturing tone.
“I have to agree with Pawn,” Skywalker chimed in, smiling at him in the corner of his eye. “Obi-Wan might think, otherwise, but in my opinion –“
Skywalker abruptly shut his mouth. The clones watched as the Jedi faced the glass window. They followed his stare and saw the telltale signs of laser bolt discharge and a twirling lightsaber in the building across. Skywalker quickly went to his communicator. “Obi-Wan, what’s going on?”
“We’re cut off,” was the reply. Gunfire echoed, as did the sounds of droid dismemberment. “The droids are on to us.”
The General cursed. “Gunship, come in. Hawk, I need an evac on the south tower.”
“South tower?” Rex said slowly in confusion. “We’re in the north.”
Skywalker smirked as he activated his lightsaber. “Not for long.” He sliced upon the glass window, using the almighty, mystical power of the Force to clear away the debris. “Everyone, fire your cables.”
You get used to these kind of high-risk tactics when you work with such a daring, reckless commanding officer like Skywalker, Pawn mused as he and two other clones used their rifles to fire their cables across. The adrenaline and the focus on getting out of these situations alive tend to distract you from the incredulity of those tactics. It was a good thing those Mandalorians trained the troops to get used to so much stress.
During the slide along the cables to the opposite building, the battle droids below opened fire on them. Thank God they were bad shots, but amid the gunshots and wind pushing against Pawn’s visor, he heard a scream from behind him. That scream quickly reduced in volume, so the screamer must have lost his grip and was falling to the ground.
Damn it all. Damn it. Gonna have to add another name to the list.
The General destroyed another glass wall as they regrouped with Kenobi’s team, and the clones got to do what they were best at; blasting tinnies into a scrap pile.
Pawn took cover behind an ammo crate. He did a quick headcount of Commander Cody’s men. Looked like a good three quarters of them were still alive. Good. Great. Pawn scanned Squad Fourteen and –
There’s Cypher, Slick, Chopper… Jester, Punch, Sketch… Gus – wounded but alive, thank the Force. But…
The heat and screams of blaster fire and soldiers getting shot at jumpstarted Pawn’s senses. He went on autopilot, following the muscle memory of taking cover, shooting hostiles, and followed the crowd retreating into the elevators.
Livewire. It was Livewire who got fell out there. Livewire’s dead.
He couldn’t dwell on that, of course, not yet. Cypher was still alive. So was Rex, Slick, and the others. Pawn had to stay focused on making sure they didn’t get shot to death.
They made it to the roof, for the gunship to get them the out. The droids had caught up, and Cypher was just shot in the elbow. He dropped his rifle as he clutched his arm. Acting fast, Pawn grabbed his brother’s shoulder and pulled him back, ducking under a blaster bolt from a tactical droid. Cypher stayed right behind Pawn, drawing his sidearm to let off a few potshots.
When Hawk finally arrived, Cypher jumped into the larty. Everyone followed, though Pawn did see Chopper tearing off the tactical droid’s head. A unique specimen for Chopper’s secret hobby, but Pawn was too busy looking over Cypher’s arm to give a discreet comment. Kix, the best medic the 501st Legion had, examined Cypher’s injury.
“He won’t be losing the arm,” Kix reassured. “He’ll live.”
But from the look of things, nine clones died today. Ten, ten when Pawn thought of Livewire.
It was time to add more names to the list.
“You sure he’s okay?”
“For the last time, yes Pawn. He will make a full recovery. The med-droid should be done soon, so Cypher’ll probably just head back to the barracks and rest his arm. You should think about taking a page out of his book, y’know, and just relax.”
Pawn sighed as he took another bite from his meal. Once they were back at HQ, Pawn had stuck to Cypher like glue. Unfortunately, Kix sent him away from the medbay. The place was crowded enough as it was. So, Pawn joined Kix at the mess hall an hour or two later to get an update on Cypher.
“Did you see the KIA list?” Pawn suddenly asked. Kix was taken aback at the change in topic but let his muscles grow lax after a moment.
“Yeah,” Kix answered. “Yeah… I saw the list. Good men, all of them.”
Pawn stared at his food, nostalgically bland and colorless. “Cypher doesn’t know that Livewire’s dead, does he?”
“No, he doesn’t.” The medic picked a spork at his tray.
“I want to be the one to tell him, once he’s out of the medbay.”
Kix was just about as numb as Pawn right now, so he simply nodded slowly at Pawn’s declaration. “Alright, then.” He glanced at the clock overhead on the wall. “Cypher should have been released by now. He might be back in his barracks.”
Pawn stood up. “Thanks, Kix.” He picked up his plate and tossed it to a janitorial droid on his way out.
He found Cypher lying in bed at Squad Fourteen’s barracks. He was reading something off a datapad, his right arm wrapped in bandages. Slick was in the corner, on his terminal, probably looking over today’s battle reports.
“Hey, ner vod.”
Cypher looked up and smiled. “Hey, Pawn! Thanks for the help back there. I didn’t expect a tactical droid coming out to fight us.”
“Uh…” Pawn coughed into his fist to get rid of the croak in his voice. “Yeah, you sure showed them.”
“We sure showed them. Did you see what Chopper did? Crazy di’kut.” Cypher snickered a bit before he put his datapad down. “Speaking of which, where’s Livewire? Someone told me he was on patrol duty, but the guy in charge told me that he wasn’t.”
Pawn didn’t answer. Instead, he went to his locker. Sorting through his stuff, he brought out his own personal datapad. When he turned around, Cypher had turned pale.
“Cyph’ika,” Pawn tried to say as delicately as he could, but it hardly had any effect. “Livewire… he didn’t make it.”
For a long time, no one said anything. Slick quickly slid out of the room, not wanting to intrude in this private moment. Pawn looked on with emotionless brown eyes, watching his brother slowly curl up. Cypher started crying, but the tears didn’t last too long. For a while, all you could hear was soft whimpering discreetly enveloping the room.
Pawn wanted to scream, to burn the whole planet to the ground. He wanted to join Cypher in his mourning, to cry his heart out. Everyone in their squad from Kamino, the brothers they grew up with, was dead. There weren’t any bodies recovered to grieve over. All they ever got was a number on a list. A digital list that gave their number, a bloody number on a list that couldn’t even acknowledge their names. In an army of clones, of a single face copied a million times, they were all just numbers, just like droids. And just like droids, no one cared about faceless logistical numbers.
No one cared about them. No one except the people who knew the truth. No one except each other.
He knows he was cheated, that he was given dreams of greatness when it was all a façade to inspire loyalty. He was born to die for people who didn’t even know he existed until a couple of months ago. Born to die for the liberty of the Republic, a government whose citizens don’t have the stones to fight for themselves. The bottom line was that Pawn and every other clone trooper was a slave, and he wanted to make the galaxy pay for putting him and his brothers through this war.
But if he tried to make everything burn, that would make one less clone looking out for his vode. And in this life, aliit, family, was something you never forsake.
Cypher seemed to have cried himself to sleep. Pawn sat back in his bed and went through his list, adding the names of the recently deceased. He sat there and read each name aloud but not loud enough to wake his brother. He made himself say each name, imagined each face, and remembered the last time he saw each person.
Livewire tried his hardest to sleep away the pain. That was how he dealt with it. Pawn didn’t want to do that. He couldn’t let himself forget. Mando’ad draar digu.
Pawn slowly awoke to the sound Slick’s voice.
“No way they are capable of something like this.”
As the volume of more voices began to spread in the room, Pawn sat up. The rest of the platoon had entered, and Captain Rex and Commander Cody were present. Cypher was also awake, looking around, confused. He and Pawn were obviously still distraught over the loss of another brother, but they had to recompose themselves for whatever their commanding officers gathered them for.
Cody began with, “There is a turncoat in our midst. We think it’s one of you.”
A part of Pawn immediately thought that was a completely idiotic notion. Another part soon realized Cody was dead serious. A clone? Betraying his brothers? The word “rage” is sufficient enough to illustrate what Pawn felt.
The commanders walked up to Jester first. No, he wouldn’t go rogue. He doesn’t have the confidence to pull of what the Captain just described.
Next were Sketch and Punch. They’re always together, watching each other’s backs. It’d be hard to believe if they went against their brothers. Then again, it’s hard to think of any clone betraying their brothers.
Then came Gus. He and Cypher were in the infirmary. They have a proper alibi, nothing to worry about them.
The Captain approached Pawn. “So where were you, 4214?” Rex nowadays rarely addressed Pawn by anything other than his rank or number. Not like Pawn cared how the Captain addressed his brothers, anyway.
“I was in the mess, eating with Kix,” Pawn spoke slowly, reining in the emotional rollercoaster he had gone through earlier that day. “Later, I came here to talk with Cypher. Afterwards, I fell asleep.”
Slick nodded. “I can vouch for him, sir. I was here when they talked.”
While Cody moved on to Chopper, Rex still held his suspicious stare. Understandably so. Pawn had a reputation for being unpredictable, and that was a trait Rex knew too well of. It wasn’t long till he joined the Commander, however.
Chopper isn’t a spy. He’d never hurt his brothers. All of his hate is for the Seppies. He would never help them. Unfortunately, the situation quickly escalated when he revealed his little pet project: the necklace of battle droid fingers. Everyone soon surrounded him, but Cypher and Pawn stayed back. The pair already knew about the fingers, but anything they say wouldn’t do much to prove Chopper’s loyalty at this point. Slick was already trying to placate Chopper from his defensiveness. Slick had to know Chopper was still a brother despite his disobedience at times, though, right?
“Sergeant,” Cody eventually said to Slick, “what did you mean, ‘till the Jedi come back’? How did you know that the Jedi were gone?”
“… I really wish you hadn’t noticed that, sir.” A haymaker, a flurry of punches, and Slick was out of the door. The commanders ran after him while the rest of the squad stood there, mesmerized. Pawn went on autopilot again, grabbing his helmet and DC-17 sidearm.
“We need to spread the word: Slick’s the turncoat.” He gave one last look at his squad mates, their jaws hanging, before exiting. “Get moving!”
Why would Slick betray us? Sure, he can be a piece of osik every now and then, but he never leaves a man behind. What reason would he have to start killing his brothers?
Why the hell did he have to get Livewire killed?
Think Pawn. Think like Slick. You’re out numbered, you’re outgunned, the only chance you have of getting out alive is stealing a gunship.
The commanders would expect that. You’ll set a trap for them. Your next best bet is contacting your Seppie friends for transport. If you’re out to sabotage the mission, you’ll probably destroy the weapons depot, the heavy weapons. We’ll be in disarray, and you can discreetly make your way out.
To get a call out, you’ll need a terminal.
No one should be in the Command Center at this hour aside from the commanding officers, and they’re out looking for you.
Slick was opening an air vent at the Center when Pawn entered and trained his pistol at him. “Don’t you move.” Slick climbed down and raised his hands in surrender, scowl prominent. “Turn around, hands on your head.” Slick turned his back to Pawn and complied. “Why’d you do it, Slick?”
The Sergeant laughed. He laughed a cold-hearted, humorless laugh. “We’re all just blindly following orders, and for what? I know you know why, yet you’re still here.”
“This isn’t about me, Slick. It’s about –“
“– clones, Pawn. It’s all about us clones. We’re treated like cannon fodder – no we are cannon fodder. At least if I do this, I’ll get something out of all of the-this suffering I’ve had to go through.”
That’s bull, Slick, and you know it. “What was your plan? Become a traitor for some Separatist cash and run off? If you do this – what you’ve done Slick is kill clones, our vode! Our brothers!”
Before Slick could respond, an explosion shook the building. Slick took the chance to tackle Pawn. They fought for control over Pawn’s weapon, firing off stray shots into the air, but it was ultimately thrown to the side. Slick head butted Pawn and ran for the blaster. However, Pawn grabbed Slick’s leg and he fell to the ground. Pawn climbed over Slick’s fallen form and started punching. Slick could hardly do nothing more than try to block his attacks.
“I know you, Pawn,” Slick said between jabs. “You know you would have done the same.”
“I’d never betray my brothers,” Pawn shrieked before grunting out, “our brothers, our only family! Unlike you.”
“Really?” Slick was hit in the jaw but continued his rant. “If Cypher wasn’t here, would you really stay and keep on fighting? When he dies, you’ll have nothing left.” Pawn hit his left eye. “I love my brothers, but the Jedi make us throw our lives away every single kriffing day. I’m fighting for something no clones have. Freedom!”
By this point, Pawn had stopped listening. Slick killed Livewire. Slick killed Livewire, Tran, Dog, and Cones. He killed them. He killed them so that he could walk away from this whole war.
It wasn’t fair.
Someone grabbed his wrist. Pawn looked up and saw that it was Rex. His normally focused, determined eyes were replaced with concern and – something else. He was saying something, but Pawn was deaf to any noise except to the sound of his own breathing. Rex tried to pull him up, but Pawn went back to punching Slick. When did his sergeant – traitor, dar’manda sergeant – get so bruised and bloodied? How long had Pawn been at this?
Pawn was suddenly slugged across the face. He fell off Slick’s body. Pawn started crawling back, but two pairs of hands held him back. Rex was joined by Cody, and the two dragged him away. He tried resisting, but he was hit again. After the fourth hit, Pawn finally calmed down. He only achieved some level of calmness by being knocked out.
The nightmares came again, but Pawn would endure, he would survive.
He always did.