“We're all going to die sometime, so you might as well die pushing the odds in favor of something that matters.”
--- CT-34-5887 (Jag)
Kasel Mak'lee made his way towards the front of the halted brigade of assembled clones, his usual frown of disgust placed upon his face and hands clasped tightly behind his back. Behind him trailed his padawan, Satile Mindoro, the dark haired human had her usual apologetic smile and her hands were rubbing her arms unsurely as she walked past the clones, as if their gaze made her uneasy.
Jag noticed Reggie mumbling under his breath -"indemnified padawan"- and he cocked his head questioningly, wondering why the clone was so hostile towards the seemingly agreeable young Jedi learner. It was normal for that language to be used against the brute General Mak'lee, but Commander Mindoro was different....she never put them willingly in the line of fire and she had saved more clones than the ones her master had let die on the battlefield.
"What is this, Hess?" Jag riveted his gaze towards the Nautolan General, who was gazing at Hess with a look of unmaskable disgust. "Why have you stopped the advancement?"
Hess took a step back, "The path leads into a pond, sir. If we attempt to cross it, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position-"
The sound of a whirring lightsaber sounded and all the clones tensed upon seeing the formidable weapon appear out of nowhere in the Jedi's grasp, the tip of the green blade was pointed in Commander Hess' face, inches away from the black visor that surely hid a pair of scared brown eyes.
Jag felt his breath catch in his throat and he tried to swallow, but his mouth seemed to have gone suddenly dry. Reggie was as stiff as a statue beside him, as were all his assembled brothers who were staring at the unraveling scene with the utmost amount of interest.
Hess lifted both hands up cautiously, "General. That...is not necessary, sir." It was obvious that the Commander was doing his best to put on a strong appearance but his voice shook, displaying the fear that he no doubt felt deep inside his being. Mak'lee smiled at the clone's failed facade, "I believe it is, Commander. Because you fail to comply with any of my commands any other way; fear is the best motivator, or so say many great minds."
Silence met his sardonic words and everyone waited stiffly for either man to make a move; silently, the clones were rooting for their Commander but deep down they knew that he would not prove victorious in the standoff.
He never did.
Satile seemed to realize that just like everyone else and she reached out to place her hand on her master's outstretched arm, her golden eyes narrowed in false composure.
"Peace, Master Mak'lee." She said calmly, "I believe the clone has learned his lesson. We will proceed with the advancement." She glanced at Hess, "Won't we, Commander?"
Hess lowered his hands slowly and nodded once, "Yes, sir." His voice had not regained it's natural composure but he nonetheless attempted to be strong in front of his men. "The advance shall continue as planned."
Satile smiled lightly, "That's very good to hear, Commander Hess. Carry on." She glanced up at her master who looked irked with her intervention and Jag saw her pull him away, an apology forming on her lips.
The word s'lakti
could be seen on her lips and Jag bit his lip unsurely. It meant father
in Anselmian. It was no secret that Kasel Mak'lee and Satile had an odd relationship from the formal master-padawan kind he was so used to seeing. Kasel was oddly endearing to Satile and the human always did what her master told her to do, her eyes looking up at him almost with devotion.
Axel had told him it was because Satile had been saved by Kasel back on her home world of Mes Cavoli, the Mid Rim world that had been fought for after the first battle of Geonosis. Both her parents had been killed by the Separatists droids that lay siege and Satile had escaped only because a surprise revelation of her powers before execution had interested the Sepy general at the time and given her time to flee.
It was a gloomy back story but Jag couldn't really sympathize. He had never had parents and the only amorous affection he recieved was from his brothers. He knew little of what it felt to lose such ties.
Satile seemed to grow aware that someone was watching her and she turned her head to stare in his direction, her eyes focusing on him. Jag started and turned around, vainly trying to focus on the path ahead.
Hess was lining them up in two lines, his voice unusually brisk as he barked out orders.
"Keel! Move in behind Fin!"
"Axel, get your shab
in behind Sev! Move it!"
Jag was placed a ways in the back, second to last in front of Ger, another rookie who had been called in to replace Fi, their former demolitions expert who was sent back to Kamino after sustaining heart trauma in their previous battle. Jag couldn't help feeling uneasy by the formation. Hess had disregarded their normal positions entirely. Rocky, the trooper of few who had a rocket launcher was placed in the very middle, his tight position making it impossible for him to access his weapon. Axel, one of the regiments snipers, was placed in the very front. Curses, even Tigz, Hess' lieutenant, was behind Reggie, who resided spitefully beside Jag.
Reggie hoisted his Z-6 rotary canon onto his hip, grunting apologies when the tip accidentally hit the trooper in front of him in the back.
Jag grimaced. "This is wrong." He whispered, low enough for only Reggie to hear. His brother scoffed. "Everything about this is wrong. The general, the commander, even Hess."
Forcing himself not react with indignation, Jag replied, "Hess has no other choice."
Reggie stifled a snort, "Ah, you can tell that you're just a rookie. You obviously haven't seen the battle of Aargonar. That's when Hess was reassigned to General Mak'lee."
As the platoons moved out, it was at times like these that Jag appreciated his helmet. He reached to grab the side, feigning to readjust it but secretly opening up a private line with Reggie, who was less inconspicuous if not outright blatant.
"Reassigned?" Jag was immediately intrigued, his interest suddenly piqued.
Reggie grunted, "Kasel Mak'lee had another clone Commander before Hess. His name was Jusik. Noone really knows how he died but rumor has it that Jusik defied an order from Kasel during the battle of Jabiim. He twisted the battle plan for the attack on the capital city but it resulted in a defeat that caused Mak'lee to take heavy fire from HQ. Jusik was reprimanded for his efforts but he disappeared when Kasel went with him on a small recon gist." Reggie's voice hardened. "Kasel said they were ambushed by a remaining platoon of droids but rumor is that he killed Jusik with a blaster he found lying about and drew about a couple droids parties to make it seem like an accident. Satile was pretty shaken up after the battle and wouldn't look at her Master much after that. However, once Hess arrived, Satile changed. She's very protective of Hess, that's why he's survived as long as he has." Reggie gowled. "Kasel is a brute, Hess is a coward and Satile is a shab.
I will be surprised if we make it out of here alive."
There it was again. The s
word. Clones spoke Galactic Basic as regulation but most, particularly those who tended to stray a bit out of the regulations, managed to pick up a bit of Mand'oa
. Mainly the swear words that were blasphemy if translated into other languages. Before arriving to the 85th, Jag had been forewarned about how these words managed to dictate how a day was going to go. Seeing as how it was being spoken in frequency, Jag knew today wasn't going to be a good day.
His brothers didn't grumble as they walked through the swampy ponds of the surface of Parcellus Minor but Jag could tell that the quietness of the area had them all uneasy. It was a different atmosphere than what they had experienced the last 72 hours when they first landed. As if on cue, Jag's lower back begun to ache, reminding him of the painful fall he had suffered when their platoons' carrier shuttle had been blasted out of the sky and all of them had been thrown out by the momentum of the spinning shuttle.
Satile and Mak'lee had gotten out with scratches but Fi had shrapnel lodged in his torso and another clone, Vic, had his spine broken when he fell on a pile of boulders. Fi was sent back with another shuttle but Vic was shot by a droid as he screamed for someone to come to his aid.
Jag suffered a broken rib and was able to run to safety but he had been unable to save his crippled brother.
The thought sickened him. Vic had been a newbie along with Jag and they had vowed to become ARC troopers before the war reached its climax. Of course, that dream was no longer a reality for Vic and without his determination and charisma....Jag now felt as if that dream were nothing more than an obsolete aspiration.
Glancing around at his assembled brothers, all clad in white with violet markings on their torsos and arms and helmets, Jag wondered what he would feel like if he lost them all forever.
Reggie, Axel, Sev, Keel, Ger, Rocky, Tigz...even Hess. Each of them bearing the same face but each one etched with eyes that bore different emotions, evidence of their sui generis personality.
Kasel Mak'lee would not care if they died. To him, the death of the entire 85th would be nothing more than a statistic. A partial sum of the casualty count that the archivers back on Coruscaunt were leisurely keeping track of. Those numbers didn't represent life to the cold hearted Jedi but merely a rep of the lost profit of the war.
Jag felt his fingers tighten around his DC-15A, his knuckles protruding. He frowned, why was he mad? After all, that was his purpose, wasn't it?
To fight and die for the Galactic Republic.
To fight the fights others would not.
To die for a noble
So why was he feeling so much hatred? It's not like his brothers and him had so much to do if they survived the war. They were soldiers, designed to follow orders. They would not know what to do as free men...right?
Jag immediately crouched down, the water rising up to his visor as he heard the sound of exploding shells and the scream of his brothers as they began to open fire. Jag saw a red ion bolt whiz past his eyes and land in the water, producing a small splash that covered his visor in glowing green algae.
Quickly, he turned to stare up into the trees surrounding the pond and noticed several droids perched on the branches, their thin limbs surprisingly well balanced. Jag pointed his blaster at the one who had fired at him and pulled the trigger; his waterproof reserves sparked to life and a single blue bolt traveled through the air to land right between the droid's optics.
It fell into the water with a loud splash and Jag immediately walked backwards, looking for some undergrowth that would offer cover fire. He bumped into something floating in the water and he glanced over his shoulder; as soon as he did, his blood ran cold. Ger's body floated upside-down in the green water, his DC-15 grasped in his frozen fibgers and a huge gaping hole centered in his torso. Blood trickled through the wound, making the water turn a sickly vermillion; it lapped at Jag's chest armor and the clone scooted back again, the shore forgotten.
"Jag!" Reggie's voice managed to kick him out of his thoughts and he glanced at his brother in relief. However, there was no such emotion on the olden trooper's facade. Reggie was waving his arms, pointing at Ger's body.
"Give me his kriffing rifle, kid! I need his rifle!"
Jag couldn't see Reggie's Z-6 anywhere and he remembered Axel telling him how poorly Reggie's weapon functioned in humid enviornments. Without thinking, Jag pried the rifle from Ger's fingers, still warm, and tossed it to Reggie, ducking to avoid a stray bolt that zoomed at his head from that direction.
Two shadows flew over Jag and he glanced up, grimacing when he saw Mak'lee and Satile somersault to the front of the clone brigade, their sabers whirring to life as they deflected the enemy's heavy fire.
Satile stood a few feet in front of Hess, and Jag could see that she kept casting sidelong glances at the clone, eyes worried and sabers deflecting.
Jag didn't know how to feel about that, it certainly made him uneasy but at least their Commander would be kept safe. Without him, they would have to deal with Mak'lee personally.
"Jag!" Axel's voice was loud in his ears, full of despair and pain. Jag kept on firing at the advancing army on the opposite shore, dodging missiles and trying to keep himself alive.
"What is it? He asked, voice full of indignation.
Axel coughed, "Keel, Sev and Rocky are dead. Tigz and I are wounded and our only medic is dead. You need to tell Hess that we have to retreat!"
Jag was quick to respond. "We can't! You heard the General, retreat is not an option."
"Damn him! Does he want us all to die?!" Axel was full of rage, something his calm demeanor greatly contradicted.
Jag cast a quick look at the Nautolan General and he couldn't help feel a sense of desperation. Was this really where he was going to go out? A few days ago, he had been shipped out of Kamino and placed in the 85th. This was his first official battle with his brigade.
It seemed it was going to be his last one too.
Jag didn't hear more from Axel, the line had gone static, and he feared his brother had joined Rocky and the others. Pressing a finger to his sidecomm, he fired at the droid's with one hand on his pistol, his eyes wide as the chaos around him began to escalate in extremity. A faint marching noise was heard from behind and beside him, Reggie turned his helmet around to see the shore behind them.
This is not good."
Jag felt his blood turn to ice in his veins. Slowly, he followed his brother's sight and he nearly fell back upon seeing what had made Reggie utter that wretched curse word again.
Platoons of B1, B2 and Driodekas lined the ahore, all their blasters pointed in their direction. None of them fired but Jag could see the ion bolts loaded in the chambers of their rifles, prepped to fire at the utterance of a single word.
He felt someone press up behind him and he cast a glance over his shoulder and saw Axel, supporting an injured Tigz who was clutching a bloody left side wound. Reggie pressed up on his right side, nursing an injured left arm that hung limply at his side.
Silence now hung in the atmosphere and Jag noticed Satile, General Mak'lee and Hess coming to join the protective circle, their lightsaber whirring as they anticipated any dangers.
His mouth went dry and Jag felt a lump form in his throat. They began this day with 245 men. Now, five remained. 240 casualties in a single day.
Jag glanced around, taking in the bloody white armor that floated in the water, lifeless and no doubt, still warm. He couldn't help himself, he just had to say it. "Shab."
A droid with a yellow stripe on his chest stepped forth on the shore facing General Mak'lee, his stance stupidly triumphant.
"You are surrounded and outnumbered. Do you surrender?"
All clones froze, quietly waiting for their general to reply. Jag didn't have to look at Kasel to know that he was conflicted. Prideful, he would want to say no and die fighting. But he had Satile with him, and though the Nautolan was ruthless, he did not want his padawan to die in a small skirmish at the bare beginning of the war. No...he envisioned a demise of glory, of honor and he was not about to throw it all away when there was still much to be seen.
Silently, Kasel Mak'lee lifted his hands, his lightsaber dropping into the water with a light plop. Satile did the same as did the clones. Jag hated the feeling in his heart when the droid's marched into the water and grabbed a hold of him, pushing him so hard he lost his footing several times on the slippery rocks beneath the surface of the water. Reggie barked out curses all the way to the opposite shore and several times the droid hit the back of his helmet with his metal fist, urging him to shut up.
Reggie, however, would have none of that. Jag immediately cut in, hitting his comrade sharply in the ribs with his elbow. "Reg!"
Reggie cursed, stepping back from Jag only to slam into a droid that formed the perimeter surrounding them.
That was the final straw. A quick fist to Reggie's exposed neck caused the rebellious clone to crumble and Jag immediately put his arms out and caught the clone's body, wincing as the heavy weight caused his broken rib to jostle and make his back erupt in pain.Don't let him be dead,don't let him be dead, don't let him be dead...
Jag sighed in relief when he felt a pulse on Reg's neck and the droid responsible seemed not to like that fact. He pointed his blaster at Jag's visor menacingly.
"Carry him. If he falls, he dies." He gestured at Reggie's motionless body with his outstretched servo, his beady red eyes emotionless. Jag grimaced, feeling thankful that they couldn't see his expression. Did he really have to do this? He was injured, incapable of carrying a brother over God knows how much terrain. What could he do to help Reggie but get him killed?
What would Vic do in this situation?
The droid's blaster banged on his visor, snapping him out of his train of thoughts. "Carry him or you die."
Hah! That certainly made this decision a helluva lot easier. Ignoring the pain in his torso, Jag grabbed Reggie's and propped him upright, letting the knocked out trooper's upper body slump over his shoulder. Jag used his legs to lift them both up and placed an arm around the back of Reggie's knees in an effort to secure him.
He noticed all of his comrades staring at him, particularly General Mak'lee and Satile. The general was shaking his head, disgust and disapproval shining in the black abyss of his large black eyes. Satile, however, gave him a nod of encouragement. There was a light of understanding in her gold eyes and Jag felt thankful that at least one Jedi was on his side.
Focusing all of his efforts on keeping his footing and keeping Reggie's body balanced on his shoulder, Jag walked beside Axel and Tigz, who had a hand firmly placed on his wound, the bloody flow stifled by the pressure he was applying. He wasn't alright, Jag could tell by the slight limp in his gait and the uneasy swaying of his upper body. Axel knew it and kept close, offering his shoulder for support when the lieutenant needed it.
The droids led them through the swampy undergrowth relentlessly, never letting the Jedi or the clones have even a moment of rest. Satile and Mak'lee never faltered in their pace but the clones were losing lengths in their strides with each passing hour. Jag could feel sweat trickling down his face, the salty substance seeping past his upper lip and into his mouth. It tasted vile but he swallowed it relentlessly, cursing his helmet for not providing sufficient procession of his bodily fluids.
Finally, after nearly half a planetary rotation, the droids ordered them to halt. A large wall of steel lay hidden a few feet before them and everyone stiffened upon noticing. It was a mobile station, capable of housing thousands of droids, and, if need be,
Reggie mumbled something incoherent, shifting slightly as he began to regain consciousness. Jag clenched his mandible and pinched the soft black material that covered the back of his knees, hoping the pain would hasten the awakening process. It did but not in the way he expected it.
The trooper let out a grunt of alarm and pulled his elbow back to collide with the nape of Jag's helm; black spotted his vision and for a moment, Jag swore he was going to black out but he closed his eyes and took a few quick breathes, trying to bring some oxygen (if any) into his brain. Reggie immediately grew aware of his surroundings and relaxed, a small sigh escaping him. He did not try to get down, though and Jag was scared to do so; he had no idea what would happen if he did.
The droid in charge turned to face them, conspicuously sticking his left hip out in the direction of the Jedi, offering them full view of the their two lightsabers that were clipped on the crevice above his waist. He placed his servo over his audioreceptor, his high pitched voice sounding slightly annoyed. "118. This is 876, requesting access to the front entrance of fort 56."
His conversation partner could easily be heard over the commlink channel, and Jag couldn't believe how incompetent they sounded. "Uh, could you repeat your number? All I heard was one, one, hate...."
The droid shook his head, "I said 118. I demand you to open the front entrance!"
"Oh! Alright sir. Opening them, now."
A slight creaking was heard and the large metal door folded into itself in the middle, allowing the assembled Republic fighters a full view of the inside of the base.
It was shaped like a large trapezoid, easily about 5000 meters wide and less in terms of length and it was bursting with activity. Shuttles and dwarf spider droids stood neatly in rows, separated in groups of twenty or more. Some were marching back forth, completely unaware of the arriving newcomers. The center housed a large tower that no doubt served as the control center, the nerve of the large fortress.
A small freshly polished droid walked up to meet the arrivees and he let out a small stuttering screech when he saw General Mak'lee heading the group of so called prisoners of war. "876, what have you done?"
876 laughed, "I captured a Jedi general and his stupid clones."
"What are we going to do with them?"
"I don't know. I guess we can throw them in the prison cells."
118 froze, "We don't have prison cells."
His compatriot gasped, "What?" He paused, contemplating. "Well. I guess we can throw them in the storage barracks. Those are ray shielded aren't they?"
"Yes, sir. Do you want me to grab a squad and prepare them?"
"Yes. Be quick about it, these Jedi are getting on my last circuit."
118 nodded and ran off, leaving 876 to order the droids to take them to storage area because apparently, he had a meeting with the General, whoever that was.
The storage barracks were small rooms, each one capable of holding only three people at a time. Jag guessed they were designed to store armaments because small piles of gunpowder littering the corners. Satile, Hess and Tigz were placed in one barrack, Axel was placed with Jag and Reggie in another. The final one was reserved for General Mak'lee and every clone let out a discreet sigh when the droids decided to keep him in solitude.
The buzz of the red rayshields offered little privacy to the clones or the Jedi but it was a relief to have a place to sit after so many hours of walking. Reggie was thrown on the floor the minute Jag walked into the room and Jag himself knelt on the floor, his back burning from the effort of having carried the clone.
The olden clone didn't complain but Axel warned him to be careful, saying that there was no way of know how much damage the mech had made when he knocked him out.
Reggie waved him off nonchalantly, "Buzz off, Axel. I'm fine. Just a kriffing kink in my neck, nothing more." He rubbed the back of his neck, taking off his helmet in the process. His brown hair was slightly damp with sweat and stuck to his forehead but his eyes were alit with fresh vigor, no doubt due to the long sleep he had on Jag's now busted shoulder.
Jag grimaced as he sat down on the side wall, his back slumped in pain, "I got a kriffing pain in my shoulder, Reggie. Wanna ask how I got it?"
His brother smiled, "Sorry about that, Jag. Guess I got a little carried away."
"Like hell you did." Jag didn't mean to sound terse but his back was really killing him, besides, they weren't any regs applying to their situation anymore so ranks and experience meant little in a prison cell.
Axel raised a hand, "Hey, calm down you guys. We're all tired and injured, we have to keep it together."
Jag grunted, too angry to say anything.
Reggie smiled, turning to look at Axel, who sat opposite of Jag. "I think Jag might have an anger problem."
Before Axel could reply, Jag snapped his head up and grimaced, "I think you have an intelligence problem." His voice was tinged with sarcasm, a bit of tiredness as well. He really wasn't in the mood to argue, especially not when General Mak'lee sat a wall's width apart from them.
Axel seemed to be on the same page because he tried to get their minds off of the tension of being POWs. "Hey, I got an idea. Why don't we talk about something else...How about what we plan on doing once we get out of this mess?"
Jag grimaced, ripping his helmet off so hard that some of his hair strands were pulled out unintentionally. "What makes you so sure we're getting out of this alive?"
Axel shrugged. "I don't but it never hurts to hope, kid. Besides, if you dwell on your impending demise, you'll get bored and have nothing else to do." He gestured at Reggie with a jerk of his chin, "It's not our first run, rookie. We know what we're talking about."
Jag was about to argue but he let out a sigh and settled back, his shoulders sagging in defeat. "Fine. I'll go first." He paused, thinking about his choices and then he said, prioritizing. "Shower, sleep, food..."
"Sleep," said Reggie. He grinned when Jag shot him another cold hearted glare. "Then more sleep." Both of them turned to stare at Axel, who had a serious look on his face.
"Glorious revolution then installing a military juntas." He noticed the indignant stares they were giving him and he grinned, "Or a plate of nice roasted robba patties and a steaming cup of caf. Whatever works, I'm not hard to please."
Reggie and Jag exchanged a glance, not so sure about his hidden depths, but at least, Axel noted, their previous feud was forgotten.
"Hey! Be quiet in there!" the droid on duty looked at them through the rayshield, it's voice full of false superiority. He glanced at his compatriot and shook his helm, "Stupid clones. I hope the General wipes them out soon."
"Yeah. They're so stupid."
The clones looked at each other and stifled laughs, put on their helmets, shut off their speakers and roared with laughter. Once they were done, they took them off again, wiping tears from their eyes.
Jag sighed, more at ease. He could feel himself gaining control again, his training kicking in once more. His brothers deaths were still fresh on his mind but they didn't depress him at the moment.
There would be time to grieve, he decided. But now, he had to focus and try to find a way to survive. There were things he had yet to see and he intended on doing right by Vic.
Jag intended on becoming an ARC trooper.