Author's Note: Inspired by the Clone Wars Season 4 Arc starting with 'Darkness on Umbara' where Captain Rex and the 501st learn to think for themselves. Having watched any of that series is not necessary to enjoying this story, just know that we made and lost a lot of friends along the way. A lot of them are resurrected here.
Captain Rex looked at the blue figure standing on Cody's arm, a grotesque and hunched Chancellor Palpatine commanding that Order 66 be carried out and the Jedi be exterminated. Rex nodded once that he'd heard that message, and listened as Cody relayed that it would be done. Then he turned away from his brother and took a deep breath. He'd hoped this day would never come. But he and his battalion, men taught to think for themselves under General Skywalker's command, had planned for it.
He lifted his arm and hit a series of buttons to com his closest brothers, every man in his platoon, in the one transmission.
"This is Captain Rex. The order has come directly from the Chancellor. Shadow stalkers," he addressed one flank of ARC troopers " – execute order 66-S1, Boyle in lead. New Hope, execute Order 66-S2, you're with me."
"Sir yes sir!" came the affirmative simultaneous call of all his men.
He turned back to see Cody deactivating his own com, having relayed the vile message from the Chancellor to all his men. Cody's men would be destroying the Jedi. Captain Rex's would...not.
The two leaders didn't waste time, they were efficient – well trained and hardened by a life filled with battle and cunning. They nodded to one another, each swivelled tightly on their boots, and stalked off in opposite directions.
"Good bye old friend," Rex muttered under his breath, truly feeling remorse. It was the last time he would see Commander Cody.
A laden troop carrier swept down before him and without hesitation he jumped aboard. It barely paused, already lifting off and swung a sharp upward right then slammed away from the Jedi temple at break-neck speed.
His brothers were storming the temple, efficiently dispatching Jedi young and old as they crossed the paths of efficient rank and file storm troopers. Boyle led his own team – Shadow Stalkers – in a different way, much more quiet and crafty as they slipped up ventilation shafts and ducked into maintenance conduits. The layout of the temple that Dogma had memorised precisely over nights of studying.
Without saying a word Dogma held up a hand and made a fist. They all halted, went still and silent as they waited. Dogma signalled an access panel then quickly began typing. A holoprojection of the entire Jedi temple appeared, small lights moving across the plan.
"Every light is a Jedi," Dogma said softly. He pressed some more buttons and one lonely blinking light remained. "Skywalker," he unnecessarily informed, having tracked their target. "He's alone."
"Of course he has to be in a spire," Boyle muttered. "That makes things harder."
Dogma nodded, shut down the projection and pointed upwards, into a garbage shoot. Men started preparing their tow-cables and grappling hooks.
Boyle paused to touch a button on his arm and began instructing the pilot who waited three clicks away already strapped into a transport. "We're going to be in the Council Chamber, up one of those spires. You'll need to extract us directly from there," he softly relayed their plan. "Be ready, we need to be there and gone, this needs to be done quietly."
"Yes sir," came the clear reply and over the com he heard the soft whine of engines powering up.
Boyle deactivated the wrist com, then readied his own equipment.
"On my mark," he ordered, pointing. "Mark."
With a sharp crack twenty tow-cables fired straight up into the metal shaft and twenty grappling hooks found purchase, digging into the smooth round walls. They each grabbed on tight and fired the retraction trigger, beginning to ascend up the spire that would take them even deeper into the Jedi Temple.
Dogma stopped them about halfway up and they swung into a shallow landing, detaching their cables. He swiftly depressed an access panel and a door popped open right in front of them. Immediately they were exposed, out in the temple's grand halls. Far more advanced into the operation to seize the temple than their comrades from other battalions.
"Single access point," Dogma led the entire squad into a turbo lift and they started rising quickly. Directly up the spire, straight to the council chamber.
In his head Boyle was planning what would happen when they reached the top. How the hell they were going to accomplish this, when he'd served under the man long enough to know it was nigh on impossible.
Then again this was Skywalker, and impossible was their mission statement. There was no option for failure.
Under Captain Rex's command they had prepared all they could in advance. Not knowing when the day would come, they'd had to always be readied. He hoped Shadow Stalkers were ready now.
"Sedative?" Boyle queried the group.
"Dart," a voice popped up from the back in answer. They all turned and looked as one piece of white armour retracted over a forearm to reveal a custom hidden compartment concealing a tiny dart. "Dipped in a heavy tranquiliser," the trooper relayed. "Drop him in five seconds."
Boyle nodded in confirmation.
"Gas," another voice popped up. It was Scar, carrying the team's pack of explosives on his back. He loosened an armstrap and tugged the pack forward, digging in the bag until he withdrew a canister that didn't match the rest of the standard grenades.
He held the shiny canister up for everyone to see. "Vaporised spice," he explained precisely. "Will fill a room of twenty metres square and knock the subject unconscious in two minutes. Our helmets will filter it."
"Two minutes is a long time for him to do damage," a doubting voice sounded.
"We cannot fail men," Boyle interrupted that kind of talk. "Blasters set to stun."
The turbo lift reached the top and the talking ceased. Hand signals had them fanning out in the antechamber, cautiously and methodically approaching the door to the hallowed Council meeting room. The gas grenade was prepped with the button depressed and ready for release. The plan was to toss it in first and follow with blasters on stun. Keep him occupied long enough to have him pass out.
But this was Skywalker, and things never went to plan.
Just as they were preparing to enter the doors hissed open before them and Skywalker stomped out. He was just as startled to see them as they were to be caught. Everyone froze for a split second. Everyone bar Waksa, who slapped his dart into the bare skin at Skywalker's neck.
Anakin tugged at the pinprick, missed it because it was so fine and tried again. Once he had it he looked at the Kaminoan dart in confusion then whirled and eyed the trooper with hatred. Right before he passed out.
"Well that was easy," Boyle watched in surprise as Skywalker's tall and heavy frame thunked to the ground at their feet.
Four men moved in and started to lift him.
Activating his com Boyle demanded a crisp "Evac evac evac," and they hurried into the council chamber. "Seal the doors," He needed to buy more time in case their brothers made it this far looking for Jedi.
Two men were left to fiddle with the wiring. The rest approached the window.
"We've got to break the transparisteel so we can board the transport."
Scar turned and offered his back, laden with the pack of explosives. They began establishing a perimeter around one window, laid the beeping charges then backed away from the shiny balls and their deadly countdown. The team hid behind a half-wall, Skywalker's body protected behind them.
The simultaneous explosion blew out not just one but all the windows, sending shattering transparisteel raining down on Coruscant below and smoke billowing from the room. Not one but two twin transports appeared.
Boyle titled his head in confusion.
"Executing order 66-S1 sir!" The second pilot was crisp and clear in his headset.
He looked between them confusedly then shook his head.
"We'll sort this out later," he said under his breath. "Waksa, take ten men and fly north, throw anyone who may have cottoned on off the scent." Waksa's group shot cables out to the waiting transport and hung, waiting.
"Everyone else, lets get him out of here."
Both transports were hastily loaded with equal numbers of men and quickly shot in opposite directions with their captured Jedi.
"She's not gonna like this," Rex worried to his second as they banked above the streaming Coruscant traffic and towards a ritzy residential centre.
He'd spent enough time with Senator Amidala to know she would not come without an argument.
"Then we should do it quiet-like," Sneaks offered up an alternative way to fulfil this mission.
Rex glanced at his Chrono. Two minutes had already passed since the order was issued. "We don't have the time," he brushed that idea aside.
"Three minutes sir," the pilot's voice crackled in his radio.
He nodded but didn't respond. Instead he took off his helmet and looked at his men. The small group, only ten of them, filled barely half the transport leaving the rest obviously empty. They were under-manned on the most important mission of his life.
"This can't be violent," he said firmly. "No one touches her. If she or the child is harmed, Skywalker will not be happy. Understood?"
"Sir yes sir!" came the firm response in unison.
"I'll try to reason with her," Rex continued outlining the plan. He nodded to Echo and the soldier withdrew an illicit flat disk from his thigh casing and touched a button.
A small holo popped up before them, detailed schematics of the inside of Senator Amidala's apartment.
"We go in from the Veranda," Rex jabbed at the holo to show the exposed Veranda that would act as a landing platform. "From there, fan out in pairs. We don't know which room she's in."
He held up his wrist in explanation "We'll need to sync chronos at touchdown. From then we have exactly two minutes until her security arrives which means we need to be gone."
"How are we going to be gone in two minutes if she can't be touched?" someone asked in disbelief.
"I'll try and talk her around. Boyle will have Skywalker by then, hopefully that will be enough."
"One minute sir. Prepare for contact," the pilot announced into their headsets. Then softly swore at what he could see through his enhanced vision goggles. "Sir, she's standing on the balcony. She'll see us coming."
"Damn," Rex looked at Echo's carefully stolen schematic.
"There's only one unguarded entrance," Echo confirmed what Rex feared.
They looked at one another, knowing there was no alternative.
"Fly straight for it pilot," he confirmed his orders. He handed Echo his helmet, dangerously choosing to go out with no protective armour concealing his face. "She likes to talk. We'll talk."
"Sir?" Echo asked, not liking where this was going.
"Everyone else stay on board!" Rex commanded. "Be ready."
"And that annoying droid is with her," the pilot's voice continued to relay what he could see.
"Ah geez," Rex rolled his eyes, knowing just which golden droid he was referring to.
The craft slowed and the access door slid open.
"Two minutes, mark," Echo called to the team.
Rex synched his chrono too.
His pilot had done a precision job, a single step and he was standing on the Senatorial apartment's balcony, confronting a wary and alert but slowly retreating Senator Amidala.
When she caught sight of him she seemed to pause.
"Senator Amidala," he began placatingly, wondering how the hell he was going to explain this.
"Captain Rex," she greeted and it was he that was startled.
"You know who I am?" he was too confused to think about what he was saying, or that he was wasting precious seconds.
"Of course Captain, we've met many times," Padmé studied him curiously. "You work under Master Skywalker's command."
Rex had never met a civilian who could tell one clone from another.
"And you've personally had my back in a firefight at least three times in the past year," she continued, a slight smile coming up onto her features. "What can I do for you today?" She looked past him to the armoured transport that was nowhere near capacity, only a smattering of his men latched on to the supports.
Rex shook his head to try and clear the fog. This woman was extraordinary, like no one he'd ever met. And that brief introduction had just confirmed it for him. She was getting the full truth and hopefully she could handle it.
"In this firefight I have your back again," he announced. "An order has been issued to exterminate the Jedi. Across the galaxy their troopers are hunting them down and turning on them, killing them. The order is one we cannot disobey."
Padmé's eyes widened, her facial features stiffening with shock.
"Most will not question it and can't fight it. Make no mistake, the Jedi will be wiped out."
Padmé reached back to grasp the edge of the sofa.
"A mission gone bad in the shadow lands a few years ago showed some of us from the 501st that orders should not always be blindly followed. We may be clones but we can think for ourselves," Rex hurried to explain, hoping she was taking this all in.
"60 seconds," Echo's voice quietly warned from the ship, only barely audible over the passing traffic.
"Milady," he softened his voice. "I don't have nearly enough men I trust to prevent this genocide. But we know the Jedi are not all the same, just as clones are not all the same. The order is to wipe out all Jedi: present, past...and future."
His eyes turned down to her stomach meaningfully and Senator Amidala, smart woman that she was, understood the implication immediately. Her hand reached down to cover the swell and her eyes turned suspicious as she demanded "How do you –"
A percussive explosion in the distance made them both duck then look in the Jedi temple's direction. Smoke billowed from one of the spires.
Rex's eyes widened then he growled under his frustrated breath "I said to do this quiet," as a shock wave boomed out across the sector.
"We have to go!" Echo called out to hurry him.
"My lady," Rex turned back to her, getting frantic. "General Skywalker has risked his life for each of us a thousand times in battle. Now we are risking ours to save him and his future. If I know," his eyes crossed her stomach. "Then others know. Please, you must come with us now."
Padmé's eyes drifted to the temple and the dark smoke pouring from it.
"Threepio," she said quietly, not turning to look at the droid. "Get my cloak. Hurry."
"Yes of course Mistress Padmé," Threepio assured and clankered off.
"Where's Master Skywalker?" Padmé was still wary but he could tell he'd gotten through.
At that moment Rex's wrist began beeping and he touched a button. Boyle appeared in holo miniature and relayed "we've got him sir. Unharmed. We're in retreat."
Rex's heart raced. They were going to pull it off.
Echo jumped off the transport and jogged up beside him, an active holo on his own wrist. "You're going to want to hear this sir."
A quick head nod was given to Rex from a familiar looking figure. "Admiral Yularen," Rex greeted warily.
"Captain Rex, I believe you're on a rescue mission. I have two Republic Cruisers at your disposal. We're orbiting Coruscant now."
"Cruisers?" Rex repeated in disbelief. Thousands of men, massive firepower – how did they have two cruisers? Was this a trap?
"The order was received to execute order 66," Yularen relayed. "So that's what my men are doing. Executing Order 66. S." He said the most important letter at the end. A secret code. Which meant somehow, he knew. Somehow Yularen's command was one of the trusted, and with his commitment came half his fleet.
The code lacked a number Rex couldn't help noting with military efficiency. Yularen has said 66-S, not S1 or S2. Which meant Yularen's planning had started some months ago, before they'd known of the Amidala complication.
Rex nodded. "Thank you Admiral. You've got two teams inbound, one to each cruiser. The first should jump to lightspeed as soon as the cargo is onboard. We'll rendezvous at the coordinates."
He didn't give them. If Yularen had truly been brought into the fold then he should know what the rendezvous coordinates were.
"Agreed," Yularen said crisply. "We await your arrival. Be quick. We're likely to attract attention since we're just sitting here, not shooting at Jedi," his dry wit passed over Rex's head.
"Rex out," Echo hit the button to end the transmission but remained at Rex's side.
"Boyle, you get that?" Rex turned to his own link.
"Yes sir," Boyle's blue image confirmed before he looked away to issue orders. "Boys lock tight the doors and pressurise the cabin for atmospheric exit. Pilot, get into orbit and head straight for the Defiance," he named Admiral Yularen's primary command.
"Jump to lightspeed immediately," Rex stressed that order. "Rendezvous at the coordinates, we'll follow with the Senator."
He looked to Padmé with an eyebrow raised in question.
She took her cloak from Threepio and began striding toward the troop transport. "Yes," she confirmed, pulling the material around her. "Let's go Threepio. R2."
The golden droid hurried behind her towards the transport as well and R2 appeared from nowhere with an affirmative excited beep. Rex winced, imagining the days of babbling from those two droids ahead of them.
"At least we got the Senator," Echo offered under his breath in commiseration.
A hurried call of "Stop!" followed by a blaster shot fired behind them just as the Senator was stepping onto the transport. Captain Rex ducked, fired back to cover their flank as he and Echo raced across the balcony.
Two more shots reached them but bad aim meant they didn't hit. As soon as the troopers were on board the transport shot away from her apartment. Captain Rex saw Senator Amidala manage to grab onto an arm strap, but only just.
"Lock her up tight," he called an order to his team to shut all the transport's doors lest they lose their precious cargo out the openings on a sharp turn.
"Pilot," he snapped into his com. "We've got a pregnant woman on board. Keep it simple," he followed up with a second demand.
Then he positioned himself next to the Senator and held out an arm to steady her. Echo did the same on the other side. These troop transports weren't made for civilian transport but he'd be damned if Skywalker's woman got injured on his watch.
They'd shot free of the atmosphere and seemed to be free of pursuers. His eyes caught the bright blue flash of large hyperdrive engines moving a large bulk to lightspeed. Beside it a twin Republic Cruiser remained alone. He breathed a sigh of relief as he realised what that meant.
"Defiance away," the pilot in his headset relayed.
"And General Skywalker with it," he confirmed for his men.
A simultaneous cheer went up around them, deafeningly echoing in the space. Senator Amidala even smiled.
"Captain you have incoming," Yularen's voice sounded to all of them. "Star fighters, one squad, coming up fast behind you."
"We've only got one gunner," Rex panicked, looking around at his woefully small team. He'd split the forces unevenly, reasoning that bringing Skywalker down would be the more difficult challenge. "And no shields," he looked at the plain steel walls of their transport, wondering if he'd saved Senator Amidala from assassination only to kill her moments later in a space battle.
"Launching X-wings," Yularen told both Rex and his own bridge simultaneously. "Divert all power to speed Captain, we'll handle defense."
"You heard him," Rex barked forward to his pilot. "Give it everything you've got."
They could all feel the engines starting to whine higher. "The Saviour is four clicks and closing," the co-pilot counted off.
A weak shot, from too far away, still tagged them, pinging against the locked outer door.
"Three and a half," the co-pilot monitored.
The floor started vibrating as the engines were pushed into overdrive.
They banked as two X-wings appeared as escort.
"Three," the countdown got closer.
They could hear shots whizzing past now. The sound of metal tagging their hull as they copped debris from a clipped wing exploding nearby.
"Two and a half."
The engines were being pushed to screaming and then there was sickening sound of CRACK! Followed by the sound of metal tearing free.
"We lost engine one," the pilot's calm voice crackled. "Diverting fuel."
"Two," the co-pilot joined him.
Everyone's eyes flew up as a blaster shot punctured their hull and air started screaming out of a tiny hole. All eyes then switched to Senator Amidala. All clone troopers were wearing armour with helmets, pressurised enough to withstand a few minutes in space. She wore a thin silk dress. Her eyes widened as she realised it at the same time as everyone else. She would die without oxygen and at the rate they were losing it, they had less than a minute.
"Sooner, rather than later pilot," she called loudly to the front cockpit, her voice steady and sure.
Rex looked at her in astonishment, and refrained from putting his own helmet on. A show of solidarity.
"Yes milady," the co-pilot called back.
"One click in. Hold steady back there, we're coming in hot."
Captain Rex and Echo made a silent pact and braced their forearms around the pregnant Senator. She had both arms grasping her wrist strap now.
"Here we go," the co-pilot screamed.
There was a mild bump as they passed through the atmospheric shields into the belly of the Cruiser but then they slammed into the crew deck and it was hard. Rex kept as rigid as he could and he could feel Echo holding the woman tight as they rebounded into a support pillar then skidded along a wall. Just as they were slowing he heard the tell tale whomp of a fuel reserve catching fire.
"Evacuate," he screamed.
The doors flew open and his men jumped out, fire droids launching from the cruiser's walls with hoses extended and retardant blasting. The Senator was right behind them and Rex, had he the time, would have been impressed with the speed she moved. He threw a look over his shoulder and confirmed the pilots were already gone, grabbed the golden droid and scrambled from the ship. R2 had activated his gas rockets and was moving fast away from the pending explosion.
"All X-Wings return to base. Close the blast doors and prepare to launch into hyperspace," Yularen's disembodied voice echoed through the hanger bay over loudspeekers.
Rex had just gotten behind a pillar when the fuel tank caught and exploded, shrapnel shooting out in every direction.
"Senator Amidala!" one of his men called in horror and he saw her fall forward but saw nothing else as he ducked for cover under a low-hanging maintenance bay.
It only took a few seconds for the firedroids to move back in and have the scene under control, another minute to extinguish the fire entirely.
Rex put Threepio down and abandoned him in the maintenance corner, making a dash for the last position he'd seen the Senator before she went down. When he rounded a stack of supply crates he saw her sitting up, Echo's bare hand putting pressure to a dark pool of blood on her bare upper arm.
"Senator?" he asked, visually assessing to see if there was any other major damage.
She looked alert and for that he was grateful.
"A mere flesh wound," she glanced down, wincing as Echo pressed harder.
"Thank god," Captain Rex dropped to her side in relief.
They glanced over at the sound of metal clanking to see a squadron of X-Wings passing through the atmospheric shields and landing on the deck. Just as the last one passed through the gap the ship's belly closed up and they could no longer see out to the stars through the opening.
The sound of laser fire followed after them.
"We need to get out of here," Echo looked up to where they could hear blasts impacting the ship's outer hull.
"Agreed." Rex touched his communicator. "All aboard Admiral," he relayed, a signal that they were all clear to jump.
"Hold," Yularen waited a moment and the bulk of the ship was so massive, they didn't even feel it moving out of normal space. "We are now at lightspeed. Expected time to the rendezvous coordinates with multiple jumps to disguise our destination is three days."
"We succeeded," Rex said in disbelief, sinking back on his knees.
"Admiral," the Senator leaned forward and spoke into his receiver. "Is there any news on General Skywalker?"
The Admiral paused, confused as to why a female voice had suddenly interrupted his comline to Captain Rex. Flashing back Captain Rex remembered his reference to Order 66-S – the Admiral wasn't aware that the plan had needed to be updated, split into two objectives instead of one.
"We, ahhh, rescued Senator Amidala of Naboo on our way," the Captain explained as briefly as he could.
"Very well," Yularen took it in his stride. "I expect a full-report at the earliest opportunity."
"We need a med team down here," Rex moved to the next important thing, looking at the heavily bleeding wound on the Senator's arm that Echo was now trying to stop and then worriedly shifting his gaze to the more fragile problem of her unborn child. God knew how it was faring. "Quickly," he hurried the Admiral.
"Dispatching med team," Yularen confirmed up on the bridge as he issued the order into his crew pit.
"Anakin," Senator Amidala pleaded.
"My Medical lieutenant reported General Skywalker unconscious and otherwise unharmed when they escaped, Senator Amidala," Yularen kept the report flowing in his succinct way.
Padmé leaned against the shipping crates at her back and Rex watched her eyes close in relief. She sighed, then opened her eyes again. Looked down at her once beautiful gown now torn with the history of their rough landing, ringed through in places by burning debris and slowly changing colour as it soaked with her own blood.
"Admiral, please be good enough to send me your stores officer. I'll need a change of clothes."