Old friends in new places

"Commander Cody." Crosshair greeted the clone commander in surprise, looking up from the data pad he had been emerged in. "I wasn't aware you were assigned here."

"Crosshair." Cody greeted the former Bad Batcher. "Or is it Commander now?"

"Heh, I guess it is." Crosshair revealed a hint of a smirk. "But Crosshair will do."

After all, nobody there called him by that designation and it sounded rather familiar. In a good way. A reminder of home. A fleeting thought, soon to be chucked back to the ever-growing pile of buried memories.

"It has been a while." Cody retorted as he strolled the short distance to greet Crosshair with the clones familiar handshake.

The two, albeit both of them working for the Empire, had not seen each other in a long while. Not that it was surprising as the Empire was spread all across the wide galaxy by now. As there were clone troopers stationed everywhere and usually not being moved or stationed elsewhere once in position.


Crosshair wasn't as comfortable in talking with Cody. After all, when they had last met, he had been the underling. Not that it was a hindering fact for Crosshair not to talk to anyone. As he really did not hold too highly any kind of rank. And now? Well they were equals in the eyes of the Empire. Or perhaps not. Crosshair knew of course how greatly Admiral Rampart valued his own efforts.

"I just had to come and say hello." Cody seemed totally happy in seeing Crosshair though and chatting him up. "After meeting up with the Admiral, as he could not spare the words of praise for his enhanced Clone Commander." Cody's face had a hint of a smirk present even if he had no doubt about what Rampart had told him about Crosshair's feats.

That comment did however raise an eyebrow and yet another surprise for Crosshair. He had gotten the feedback from the Admiral, of course. Of being an asset and exceeding all expectations. His loyalty and determination for the Empire being commendable. But, that had been said in private. Crosshair had not expected this to be something shared, especially with another clone. It was kind of warming his chilly little heart, for a brief moment at least.

"Rampart did mention a transfer of several clones over to the Coruscant division." Crosshair finally managed to connect the dots, as clearly, Cody was among them.

Crosshair had not paid much attention to the Admiral's ramblings over troop movements as those were happening more frequently now. Something of a surprise, for sure. But it seemed that lately, clone troopers had gone missing. Misplaced on a larger scale. It was not really Crosshair's concern, but he had made a note of it. And, despite his distaste for the regs, he kind of missed them. After all, most of the conscripted troopers were lacking in so many ways. And sometimes it felt like they were simply incompetent walk-ins rather than being the soldiers they were hired to be.

"Well, guess it means we will be working together then." Cody's timbre was solemn as he said it.

The smirk from earlier was gone. Even if seeing a familiar face. Someone Cody had worked with before and even trusted. Well, those days were gone. The ever growing doubts about the Empire and its doings even after being part of Order 66 himself. Hunting down Jedi. It had all become a nightmarish blur to him. The endless killing, the following hunts for suspected Jedi far and wide in the galaxy. There had not been even one single question entered the Commander's mind of the righteousness of it all. At least not during the few months he and his division had been running amok taking down those they had once served with.

But now?

Now, things weren't as clear as they had once been. Whatever had happened during the hunt, it all seemed like a bad dream now. The questions never asked suddenly coming to realisation. The why's of it all especially hard to answer. Something which had stated to bother the Commander more and more each passing day. As if something had been turned off or on in his brain.

Sure, Cody had heard the rumours. About the supposed inhibitor chips in each and every clone. But there was really no proof of any of that he had seen. And certainly the Empire had not shared their information, if they had found such things inside the clones brains. Or was it all part of the deal?

Still, chip or not, did it really matter?

Good soldiers followed orders.

"Cody?" Crosshair's question echoed from somewhere distant.

Cody had slipped into his thoughts once again, pondering about the existence of it all. Something which was happening in an increasing volume lately. Making the Commander doubt his own sanity most days.

"Sorry, heh." Cody excused himself. "Guess I was simply feeling nostalgic for a moment there, thinking of the good old days."

A little white lie for sure, but what could he say? What he was feeling about the Empire to someone who had clearly earned their merits working for the imperial forces.

"And guess I am a little tired too. The trip here was long." Cody added, as an excuse to cover his condition and state of mind.

Crosshair's brows knitted, his expression turning to a more suspicious one.

As despite the chipper mood from earlier Cody had housed, he seemed somehow off to Crosshair. This had never really been a quality of the much admired Marshal Commander. At least in the past. Even Crosshair had had some respect for the man. Which was rather unusual as most regs he really had no love for. But the fact that Crosshair had reverence for Cody was something he would never admit out loud, to anyone. And perhaps the long trip really was getting to the other clone, as space travel, especially the long hauls easily took their toll.

"I am sure you will feel better after some rest." Crosshair sounded positively caring, polite even. "There are several missions which require competent troopers and I would suggest you and I take lead on those."

Crosshair was already a few steps ahead, thinking about the usefulness of Commander Cody. Even if Rampart had not mentioned Cody by name, Crosshair was sure he had intended the two of them be working together. Knowing well the aptitude of the other clone, Crosshair was also convinced that once the option was presented to the Admiral, the two of them would have his blessing to work together.

Cody simply nodded in agreement.

Not that he wasn't looking forward to working with Crosshair. Because it was a change for Cody after having had so many of his former clone troopers replaced by hired help. No, he welcomed the change. At least for now. Perhaps working with Crosshair would finally put his doubts to rest and he could simply concentrate on being a soldier once more.

"I think you may be right." Cody let out a quiet laugh. "The trip was rather taxing. Seven days in hyperspace to get here." He paused and looked up at the other clone. "Well, you know how it is. Not much sleep out there in the trenches and the usual grind."

It had been a long time since Cody had had even a breather. The back to back missions, sleeping and eating on the run. The Empire was expanding at a speed no one had predicted. And there were so many uprisings. Insurgents the Empire called them. Although, there were indications not all of them were that. But, it was not really for Cody or the other soldiers to question the orders.

Was it?

"Well then," Crosshair, not much for idle chat, simple stated. "Sweet dreams as they say and we'll meet up tomorrow to hammer the details."

Crosshair was already working with the assumption, that Rampart would approve of the two of them working together on the several planned missions. After all, there were news of rebels rising. Not that it really was news, as Crosshair had seen them first hand. A long list adding up.

And Saw Gerrera was not even on the top of said list. Crosshair had been surprised however, that while informing his superiors of the pending civil war, heeding the warning of Gerrera's, the brass had hardly raised an eyebrow. Something he had found odd at that moment.

Then again, good soldiers did not question, they simply followed orders.

"I guess we will." Cody was totally ready to retire for the night with all the things swirling around his mind. He simply wished for some peace and quiet for a moment. "Have a good night." He wished Crosshair, getting a single nod in turn.

As per suggested by Crosshair, Rampart had bought the plan of the two clones working together. Hook, line and sinker. After all, they had both proven their worthy in the cause of the Empire's. And, their merits from the past spoke volumes too. So, having the two clones hunting down the rebel leaders? Well, the Admiral knew his pet missions were in good hands. After all, his most priced clone was assigned to them. And the other addition? Rampart had heard only great things about Commander Cody. The clone commander putting down insurrection after another while working in the farthest corners of the Empire.

"I would appreciate regular updates." Rampart reminded the two Commanders as they were leaving his office.

"Yes Admiral." The two Commanders respond in unison.

Saluting the man even, putting on a good show of it too. Crosshair never the one for protocol, while Cody had his doubts the Admiral really deserved his respect. However, after last night and having gotten out from the outer skirts of the known galaxy? With a new set of orders, Cody was feeling slightly better for it all. The nightmares had not nearly been as bad as they usually were.

Cody had not told anyone he was having them. But he wondered while walking side by side with the taller clone, whether he should ask Crosshair if he was feeling anything similar. Then again, Crosshair had a reputation of being rigid and tight lipped. A combination hardly inviting for any kind of personal discussions. So, for now, Cody simply dwelled in the sensation of having a new purpose. To go after real insurgents, rebels rather than simple folk trying to survive the Empire.

Crosshair, on the other hand, was only too happy to leave this mess of a city planet behind. It was far too noisy and chipper for his taste. Too much noise and bright colours. He simply wanted to get out there and do his job. Following orders like the good solider he was. Because the missions, were what he lived for. Not sitting in fancy offices and making endless plans. And working with Commander Cody? Well, that had been a Force sent for the solemn enhanced clone.

Mission impossible

The latest mission was still haunting the Commander. The casualties from their hunt for insurgents had been massive even on the Empire's scale. And so, Cody had started to rethink his position in the grand scheme of things where the Empire was concerned. So many people dead.

And for what? Resisting the Empire?

Not rebels planning a civil war. Not insurgents, not at least by any proper definition of the word. No, they had been mostly simple farmers and other kinds of civilian workers, wanting to be left alone and live their lives without the Empire's yoke choking them.

It had been several long months working closely with Crosshair. Running these, errants, for Rampart. It had really not turned out as planned in the end. At least not in Cody's mind. The grand Empire! Making the galaxy better? That was all debatable now.

Because what was it that they had really been doing all this time?

Running amok in the galaxy, doing horrible things to those whom did not deserve any of it.

This was not war. This was not peace. No, this was something, which Cody could not even name.

Actually, it wasn't true. As what they were doing, did have a name. It was simple slaughter of all those, who dared to resist the all mighty Empire.

Cody and Crosshair had gotten closer.

Well, as close as the other clone really let one to get. Sure, they were talking, more than before. But, there really had not been too much of idle conversation, nor personal sharing outside the shop talk of their missions.

And sharing drinks? Yes, that had happened a few times too. But, guess it did not really matter, as alcohol clearly did not loosen the sniper's tongue either. So, comfortable silence it was for them. Mostly.

But, that would all change soon.

After their latest stint, while tracking down a supposed rebel they had accidentally landed in the wrong place and before the two Commanders had even had a chance to double check their situation? The conscripted soldiers had managed to wipe out half of a village of civilians. Farmers, who had had absolutely no dealigns with any rebels or anyone else for that matter.

As the incident details had found their way back to Rampart, the Admiral had simply shrugged it off as "unfortunate, but these things happen during war". Thus swiping it all under the great big rug of failures of the Empire happening more and more frequently.

And so, the nightmares were back. Again.

Or perhaps they had never really left him. After all, Cody did not really sleep that much, did he?

The missions blurring into each other. What had seemed at first like a great idea. A new sense of self with a purpose to do something better? Well, it had all turned as sour as the blue milk having been left on the mess hall table for far too long.

And so, here he was, the formidable Commander Cody, repeating the same actions. Day after day. Simply going through the motions without the sense of doing a good job.

Nothing like good soldiers following orders, eh?

And so, what came down to Cody's and Crosshair's somewhat comfortable friendship?

Cody could not really be sure. After all, being a team with Crosshair was certainly nothing like what he and Rex had once had. Were they even friends? Cody could not really tell.

As far as Cody had figured out, Crosshair liked to be by himself after the mission was done. But having dragged Crosshair out a few times for the kind of celebration the soldiers liked to do after a successful mission. Even if they really did not feel like victories most of the times. Sometimes, yes. But certainly nothing like fighting the Separatists and winning battles way back when.

But, it was certainly the something even if Cody was having second thoughts of what they were doing and whether they really deserved the wins.

There was an understanding certainly between the two clone commanders if nothing else.

Both of them pulling their very best for the Empire. And the rest? Well, like the man had said, they were soldiers. Following orders. Something which kept on repeating as the very reminder of what they were made for.

As the missions continued, the nightmares too continued their forever existence.

One late evening, after getting back to their base after yet another mission. The prospect of a day or two off from running amok in the galaxy was offered to the two Commanders and their troopers by the Admiral himself with a thanks for a job well done.

Cody was sitting in the lounge area of their big and fancy barracks. A perk while working for the Empire. At least, some of the soldiers seemed to think so. Cody could have not cared any less.

The large seating area was empty by now as it was already late. With most of the troopers having retired for the night. But Cody was not ready to do that. He was way too wound up and certainly, sleep would be eluding him once again.

Just then, Crosshair walked in and was seemingly surprised to see the other clone in there.

"Commander Cody." Crosshair greeted with his usual professional manner and then took a seat across from Cody.


Cody too, was surprised that Crosshair actually remained in the room. As per his normal behaviour, Crosshair would have turned on his heels after seeing someone else in the space he would have wanted to spend some time in. But he did remain. So that at least was something. Not that Cody had neither excepted or missed the company.

Still, this could well have been the sign Cody had needed. To perhaps finally ask a more personal question from Crosshair.

"I guess we both have a sleepless night ahead?" Cody was trying to make conversation, but it was most likely a true statement as well.

As clearly Crosshair had not gone to sleep either despite the late hour, most likely having similar issues as Cody had. Or at least, that was his assumption. As why else come and sit down in the lounge in the middle of the night?

"Sleep…" Crosshair paused as if assessing what to answer. "Does not come that easy." He finally stated in a rather soft timbre.

A rather personal admittance if anything from the otherwise reserved clone.

Cody simply nodded. After all, it seemed to be somewhat of a trend among the clones. Especially for those in charge. Something which Cody had battled with most of his life.

"The mission. Well it was a hard one." Cody was grasping now of what to discuss, keeping focus on the work, for now.

He really wanted… No, needed to ask more.

To know what the other clone was thinking. About the missions. The Empire. What it was like for him to serve. Did he have any doubts at all?

Cody needed to know he was not the only one feeling the way he did. The sleepless nights, the nightmares, the constant doubts? Did Crosshair feel the same way? Or was Crosshair really a stone cold killer? Following orders blindly like he made everyone see him as?

Or was it simply Cody himself, feeling all this, turmoil? Perhaps he was going crazy after all?

There was a moment of silence between the two.

Then, Cody decided to ask the question which had been bothering him.

"Crosshair," Pausing, getting the other man's attention. "Do you think this new Empire… is good for us? For the galaxy?"

Crosshair glanced at Cody. If he was surprised by the question, he did not let on.

And, for a fleeting moment, he did seem to be contemplating the question before answering.

"We, are soldiers. What we do, is for the good of the Empire, and the rest of the galaxy."

Crosshair's voice was flat and he wasn't really selling it either. Not really. Certainly not to Cody and most likely not to himself either.

"We will adapt." Guess it was something Crosshair himself was still trying to do.

The vague sentiment did not really answer the question. Rather raised more of them in Cody's mind. And from what he could deduce, Crosshair really did not have an own opinion of it all either. Rather repeating some mantra someone had told him.

"Well, guess it takes some getting used to, is all." Cody had plenty of doubts still lingering.

And getting used to it? The Empire? Well that remained to be seen.

Cody was slowly walking along the long corridor. Making his way to the barracks. It was the one where the offices of the ranking officers were situated at. Having decided to turn in for the night. Being in no hurry in getting there for yet another sleepless night most likely ahead.

As Cody passed Admiral Ramparts office, he noticed the door being ajar. Cody could not help himself for taking a small peek. For whatever reason. Just as he was close enough to look inside, the quite distinguished voice boomed from the room.

"What is the status of project War Mantle?" It was none other than the Emperor himself, most likely talking over the holo comms to the Admiral.

"We are nearly there." Rampart replied.

Project War Mantle?

Cody had heard that phrase a few times in passing, but he was not privy as to what it really meant. Even if he had tried to nose around. No, most intel was tightly locked these days and was given out on a need to know basis only.

"The time of change is upon. The new era of things!" The Emperor's voice stated proudly. "We need to make sure the plan is executed post-haste." Palpatine's voice positively boomed with his usual theatrics clearly present.

"Do not worry, Your Highness." Rampart ever the kiss-ass stated with a hint of a grin in his timbre. "We are phasing down the clones as we are speaking and exchanging our armies for the conscripted soldiers as they are simply lining up to enlist. The effort is well on the way." Rampart assured Palpatine.

"I want all of them gone!" The Emperor exclaimed adamantly, with so much hatred shining through that very sentiment.

"We will. My Leash. We will." Rampart then assured the Emperor.

Cody stood there, behind the door. With his mouth agape, frozen in his steps. Afraid to move.

Not believing what he was hearing. This was news to Cody after all. He had seen clone trooper after trooper disappearing from sight. But, never daring to ask as to the why and where. After having served the Empire ever since Order 66, Cody had never really felt in place with their agenda. But, he had done his job. Like a good soldier.

But, it was becoming more and more clear, that the time of the clones would be over. Soon.

Cody was realising then and there what was happening. To him, and the others. The clone troopers, his brethren. All of them. It was a revelation to say the least. Cody's eyes opening to the truth. Perhaps for the first time while working for the Empire.

And Cody knew then, that he needed to do something about it.

Cody then quickly and stealthily moved away and headed back to his quarters. This piece of information he had accidentally obtained, by eavesdropping on his commanding officer? Well, however it had happened, it would change Cody's resolve. Finally and for the good.

Desertion, is such an ugly word

"What, are you doing?" Cody heard the familiar snarl.

Crosshair was standing right behind him inside the cockpit of the small shuttle Cody had decided to annex. Clearly, the other clone had anticipated Cody's move after their brief conversation. And the reason of the how and why still unclear to Cody.

Perhaps, Crosshair had seen right through him. The fact that Cody was not happy with the Empire. Or then, Crosshair was simply paranoid enough, seeing insurgents among his own ranks even. Or maybe, he was spying for the Empire. Keeping an eye on all the clones serving as officers. Whatever it was, Crosshair was there to stop Cody from leaving.

But it did not matter. Cody had made his choice.

And that choice was to pick up whatever remained of himself and get the kark out of there. Leave the Empire far behind. As with what Cody had heard while eavesdropping into the conversation between Rampart and the Emperor? He knew his fate was sealed. As were those of the other clones serving the Empire.

"What does it look like I am doing?" Cody could as be snide as the other clone when he wanted to, after all Crosshair did not own the rights to said behaviour.

"You are not authorised to be in this shuttle." Crosshair's growl was low and warning. "There were no flight plans made."

"Yeah?" Cody sniped back. "Well, I am taking it anyway." Cody was not fazed by Crosshair's threatening stance and continued the preflight checks despite Crosshair still hovering behind him.

Quickly realising the words being said and what Commander Cody was really about to do, Crosshair pulled his blaster targeting Cody. Because why else would the Commander be inside the small craft without permission, if not to escape.

"You, are about to become a deserter."

"How perceptive of you." Cody quipped at Crosshair. "But I, am leaving this place right now and there is nothing you can do to stop me. Desertion or not." Cody told him flatly and just then, the engines turned, the familiar rumble filling the small cockpit.

"You, are not going anywhere." Crosshair was positively fuming. "Commander Cody, I am placing you under arrest for betraying the Empire." His blaster fully aimed at Cody now. "Get up and step over here with your hands where I can see them." Crosshair glared at the traitor's back, still seated in the pilot's chair.

"Is that an order, Commander?" Cody asked him in a low register, still not turning to face Crosshair.

"I guess it is." Crosshair hissed, not amused at all.

Cody glanced at the other clone through the cockpit viewport reflection. Unmoving.

And then, before Crosshair even knew what hit him, he was falling face first onto the floor. Unconscious as soon as he hit the surface of it.

Cody had drawn his own blaster. After all, he was a trained combat soldier, the best of the best. Someone, whom not even the most enhanced clone could defeat.

"Consider your order, revoked."

Cody turned back to the helm controls and pulled the shuttle out of the bay. After all, he had only so much time before the imps became aware of what he was doing. The hack Cody had deployed on the flight navigational consoles only lasted for so long.

Crosshair was finally coming to and getting back into the world of the living. It took a moment to get his bearings before he was able to glance around. Crosshair found himself lying on the floor of the shuttle. And, being handcuffed.

"What did you do?" Crosshair barked at Cody, seeing the other clone still at the helm.

The moments before the blaster had hit him coming back and then realising he was a prisoner of a traitor now who had shot him as well. Crosshair wiggled a bit before managing to get into a seating position.

"I'm sorry. But you are coming with me." Cody simply replied.

After all, there had been no time in dragging the other clone out of the shuttle. The imps having already been aware of the ship taking off as soon Cody had steered it out of the hangar bay. Luckily for them both, Cody was an excellent pilot and had managed to get the small vessel out and off the planet before the imperials had even managed to launch any of the TIE fighters.

"I will not go anywhere with you." Crosshair spat out in anger. "I am a loyal soldier of the Empire."

He just had to put that out there, once again. Just in case anyone had forgotten. Crosshair most likely being the first one, as the mantra needed to be repeated for even himself. Apparently. Otherwise it might have been loosing its affect. But it was also something, which in Cody's ears was getting old, and really, really fast.

"Heh, I guess you are that." Cody sneered. "But, you can go back to them if you want. As soon as I am far away from their radar." Cody assured him.

Cody was thinking of dropping Crosshair off on some planet with imps after he had managed to put some distance between himself and the Empire. They could pick him up once his beacon started to transmit.

"This is kidnapping." Crosshair's tone had still the angry bite to it.

"Add it to the list." Cody told him, tired of the ranting of his fellow clone.

Besides, Cody had committed so many violations already. Desertion, being on the top of said list. Stealing a ship. Shooting a fellow officer. The list went on. So what was one more?

Cody was making sure the hyperspace corridor was stable after entering it without the proper calculations. After all, he had been in a hurry, the imps about to get to him. So, proper preparations had not been possible.

Cody placed the shuttle on autopilot to check up on Crosshair. After all, Cody was concerned of the other clone, despite their differences in opinion of, well everything. And wanting to make sure Crosshair was fine. Naturally.

"How are you feeling?" Cody asked Crosshair, hovering over the tied up man.

"What do you care?" Crosshair snarled. "You are a traitor!"

"I care. Of all of the clones." Cody stated solemnly.

Cody made a double take of Crosshair, making sure the man was comfortable despite being restrained and Cody's prisoner.

Crosshair hissed again and bared his teeth as Cody touched his hands to check the shackles.

"You lot! All of you! Regs!" Crosshair berated Cody pulling out his best bites, hoping for them to stir up something, anything really at this point. "You never cared about loyalties." He tried to provoke Cody.

Even deep down, Crosshair knew it really wasn't the truth. But, he needed to rattle the other man's cage, rile him off of the cool and calm Cody seemed to be in now. Which was totally odd to Crosshair, as the Commander had just deserted from the Empire and stolen a ship and most likely being chased as well.

Cody stood up after making sure Crosshair was secure enough, but also not too uncomfortable.

"You really have no idea do you?" Cody stated flatly, glaring at Crosshair with fire in his eyes, clearly the words hitting home.

"We were all united. Before this, this Empire happened. Standing together. And now?" Cody paused for a moment his mind wandering.

As it was, Cody really had no idea what had happened to most of those troopers he had once served with. Called so many his friends even. Where they dead? Serving the Empire? The ones he served with now, or before he had deserted, were mostly troopers of a later creation. Shinies trained for the Empire's will only. Most of them anyway.

Continuing, Cody's voice lowering into an almost sad timbre. "But now, that is all gone. The pride, the camaraderie. Us all being brethren. It is all gone."

Cody had seen it happening. The Empire draining what little if anything the clone troopers had had in them. Personality, individuality. Life. All of it. Cody himself was but a shadow of the man he had once been.

"None of you were special." Crosshair acted as what Cody had said had no effect on him.

The same mantra which had been repeating in his head, ever since the chip activated and even after the supposed removal of it. Crosshair still thought the Empire was it. The place to be for him. Nobody else understood Crosshair like the Empire did. And Crosshair himself, was special. Not like the other clones. Always had been. Right?

"Well, guess I have a surprise for you then." Cody snorted snidely, because now, he knew better now.

Cody leaned back towards Crosshair, being on the eye level with the other man. Glaring at Crosshair straight into his eyes before laying out the law for the enhanced clone.

"You, nor I, are nothing to them." Cody stated in a low tone, through gritted teeth.

Cody had Crosshair's attention though. The words eliciting a response from his captive. The glare intent and set on Cody, without any snide comebacks. Not yet anyway.

"The Empire is phasing down clone soldiers." Cody let out then waiting for Crosshair to counter him, but as there was nothing coming forth, Cody went on. "I know of their plans."

He still kept his eyes on Crosshair and seeing the other man was still listening, he continued.

"And no matter what you think of yourself. What or who you think you are. Better than the rest of us? The golden boy of Rampart's?" Cody paused, shook his head before adding. "It will not save you."

Crosshair simply continued to glare at Cody. Without any kind of comeback of a snide retort. Something of a welcome change for Cody for sure. But, there was a hint of a troubled expression there, which Cody had observed, however fleeting it had been.

Crosshair, had heard the words, and they had stuck to him.

Lend a brother a hand?

"We are approaching the edge of the Coruscant system." Cody quipped. "We'll drop out of hyperspace soon."

Crosshair who was still in the same position he had been all those hours ago when the ship had entered hyperspace. Hardly moving from the place. Even declining to eat or drink anything Cody had offered him. He was a stubborn one, that much Cody already knew. But, that did not make Cody want try to coax the man out of his funk either. After all, being on board for so long was boring at best.

"I thought you might want to know."

They had been flying fast, in constant hyperspace for long while. Cody had tried to make Crosshair eat something, anything. Even offering to take the shackles off if he did want to eat. But Crosshair had not budged. It was something which had alerted Cody as to the state of mind the other clone was in. As clearly, survival, not matter what the conditions were, was somewhat of an inherit for them all. The clones. But apparently not, for Crosshair.

"And then what?"

Crosshair sounded almost as venomous as he had been when the shuttle had left the imperial base. Something which clearly did not fade, not matter how hungry or tired he got.

"Well, then we go our separate ways." Cody simply stated. "That is as soon as I find someplace to put down and find me other means to travel."

Cody did not really have that much of a plan. He did not know anyone out there anymore. And what little credits he did have, Cody had figured he could at least by a ticket on a transport ship.

"Just like that?" Crosshair asked, his scowl fading a tad.

"Just like that." Cody stated with a hint of a smirk.

Cody had hoped. Well, wished, that Crosshair would have changed his mind. Or at least be open to the possibility of what Cody had revealed to him about the Empire's plans. That perhaps, it was not Crosshair's place either to remain in. But, clearly, Cody had not managed to convince the man, of anything.

"Well, isn't that special." Crosshair mocked Cody again.

"Yeah, well, like I said. I will go my own way and you can take this ship and fly back into the welcoming arms of the Empire."

Cody could be that way too, snide in his comments, his moods too, apparently swinging like a rickety old child's play thing.

And honestly, Cody did not understand how Hunter and the rest of the squad had ever put up with Crosshair's behaviour. Had it always been like this? Cody was reminded of a few occasions when Crosshair had deliberately picked a fight with the other clone troopers while on a mission.

But it had never been this level bad. Had it?

"Like I said before. You will be in for a one helluva surprise!" Cody reminded Crosshair.

Cody was quite sure, that no matter how good a soldier or a precious pet Crosshair was in the eyes of Rampart's? The Emperor was a rigid old man, Sith bent on galactic domination and he would never give a free pass to any clone. As Palpatine clearly had an agenda. And that was to destroy the clone troopers. The last remnants of the Republic.

"Guess I will just have to find out that for myself." Crosshair tried.

But somehow, it did not sound as convincing as his other quips had been. Or then, had they been that convincing either? Ever?

Cody was about to say something when they felt it. A jolt on the vessel's hull, making the ship shake and rattle just a bit.

"Someone is shooting at us." Cody rushed back to the cockpit.

"Told you they would find us." Crosshair was quick again. "They always do." Sounding quite pleased.

Cody ignored him and checked the radar. It did not look good.

"There is an imperial cruiser chasing us." Cody exclaimed, not caring if Crosshair was entertained of the fact they had been found or not.

Just then, the comms channel crackled to life. And a clear order came through.

"Imperial shuttle! Lower your shields and surrender your vessel!"

"Comm them back!" Crosshair's voice was somewhat panicked.

"They are jamming our comms." Cody pushed the buttons to open up a channel to buy them some time, but nothing happened.

More shots shook the small shuttle as the imperials were firing on them again.

"Dank Farrik!" Cody cursed and tried his best to manoeuvre the ship out of harms way.

Crosshair huffed and puffed as he wiggled himself up from the floor, closing the short distance between his position and the cockpit.

"Let me help before you get us both killed!" He demanded.

"I don't exactly trust you." Cody told him flatly.

But Crosshair was relentless and glared at Cody. After all, the two of them could steer the ship faster together and avoid getting hit constantly.

"Fine!" Cody released the lock of the shackles and motioned for Crosshair to take the co-pilot's chair.

Crosshair did as suggested and the two of them managed to evade most of the blaster fire of the imperials shooting at them. There were most likely no clone troopers on board and the results usually meant bad aim. Fortunate for the two of them of course.

They kept on playing cat and mouse for several moments more. Managing to avert most of the bolts. But some of it did hit the shuttle, causing alarms to go off everywhere and vents to blow.

Soon enough Cody detected another vessel approaching fast, and then a third one after that.

"Kark! They are getting reinforcements." Cody cursed, and tried to engage their hyperdrive again. But the engines only sputtered and nothing happened. "They must have hit the engines." Not good news at all.

Crosshair shot a smug glare at Cody then.

"Well, guess this will end for us, right here. One way or another." Cody made a choice again and swerved the shuttle around.

"What, are you doing?" Crosshair's eyes shot wide in panic of the other clone's drastic actions.

As he tired to take over of the helm, he found himself locked out of the controls.

"Like I said, one way or another. This ends here."

Cody was adamant. He would not be going back to the Empire. Most likely he would end up shot anyway. So, going out on his own terms was a more appealing method than anything the imps could provide.

Just then, as they were about to go head on with the imperial cruiser. Take as many of them with as possible. They could see the two approaching vessels firing on the cruiser.

"Someone is shooting at the imps." Cody shouted victoriously, halting the shuttle.

"Rebels!" Crosshair spat angrily, clearly not happy at all.

"Looks like it!" Cody's face had a huge grin on it now.

Perhaps, today was a good day to live after all.

The cruiser was trying to fight back, firing on the attacking ships rather than the shuttle. But, no matter how hard they tried, the pilots of the other ships were smarter, faster and their craft more manoeuvrable. And soon enough, the large cruiser lost the battle and imploded right in front of the two clones eyes.

Just as Cody was about to fly out of the battle zone, they both felt it. Some of the debris from the cruiser had hit the shuttle and all the alarms went off again. Blasting more loudly than before. The consoles at the helm went crazy as well and Cody lost control of the helm.

"We are going down!" Cody glanced at Crosshair, each of them housing a panicked expressions on their faces.

The surprise victory, all but brief. Now lost forever, while the shuttle with the two of them in it, were going to perish anyway.

The shuttle started rolling and was on a trajectory towards a small moon right in front of them. Cody tried to gain some control back of the helm, but he could not. They could only watch as the shuttle plummeted towards the surface, taking the two of them down with it.

Thanks to whatever forces were out there, the imperial shuttle landed on the moons surface, crashed for sure, but not lethally so. The landing still managed to knock them both out for a moment at least. As they recovered, it was Crosshair this time being the one reacting quicker.

"Don't!" Crosshair warned Cody.

He was aiming the blaster Cody had had on the dashboard at the Commander, with a sickening gleam in his eyes.

Cody raised his arms in surrender.

"Now, nice and easy. Get up and get moving." Crosshair ordered Cody.

"We don't even know if the moon has an atmosphere." Cody stated flatly.

Crosshair punched a few keys and the holo map of the moon appeared with all the data of it visible for them both.

"Looks like we were lucky." Crosshair snarled. "Now, let's get moving." He ordered. "We need to fix this ship before the rebels get here.

Even if it was an impossible task, most likely, to fix the shuttle. It could have very well been damaged beyond repair. But for some reason, or unreason, Crosshair was adamant in getting back to his precious empire. And clearly, not willing to face the rebels or whomever it was who had shot at the imps.

Pointing the weapon at Cody, he motioned for the other clone to start moving out from the shuttle. Crosshair following right on Cody's tail.

As they started moving forward, out of the blue, Cody stumbled. Intentionally of course. And in a moment of confusion, he ended up with the blaster, now pointed at Crosshair instead.

There was a moment of a stand still, silence falling on the narrow walkway of the shuttle.

"Don't ever think you can go toe to toe with me, and then come out winning." Cody warned Crosshair, his steely glare on the other man.

Crosshair tried to hold his gaze, but ultimately failed.

Cody then motioned for him to go out first. Because no matter what, they still needed to see what kind of damage the shuttle had sustained and perhaps to fix it if possible.

As the two of them stepped out through the ramp of the shuttle, they could see a ship lading some distance away. It was a familiar looking Omicron-class attack shuttle they both spotted at the same time.

"Oh, goody!" Crosshair snarled annoyed.

Trust in me?

As the two crash landers watched the familiar figures disembark the Havoc Marauder, one of them particularly stuck out to Cody.

"Rex!" Cody greeted the former Captain with a wide grin when the arrivals were close enough to hear. "It is so good to see you old friend." Cody looked totally surprised, but in a good way to see Rex.

However, the happy reunion Cody had hoped it to be after seeing his best friend, Rex step out of the Marauder did not turn out to be one after all. A surprise for both it seemed as well, as neither were really aware of the other's existence anymore. As far as the Empire was concerned, Rex was dead and buried.

As it was now, Rex seemed rather reserved and without a hint of a smile on his face. He really did not seem too delighted in the fact that Cody was there. And with Crosshair no less. Letting it show as well.

Despite seeing his long since lost best friend, his best bro, standing right there in front of him, Rex was not convinced Cody could be trusted. After all, he had the infamous Clone Commander with him. And what Rex knew from the Bad Batch, Crosshair was now imperial, through and through.

Then there were the stories of their deeds being told through the grapevine and by the many clones Rex and his legion of rebels had managed to rescue. That of Cody being alive and working for the Empire. Just like Crosshair. And raising all kinds of havoc in their wake, plowing through the galaxy in the Empire's name.

"Cody." Rex did not offer his hand in greeting, nor did he make any effort to close the short distance between them either.

And soon enough, Cody and Crosshair could see the blasters pointed at them. The Bad Batch having them both at blaster point.

"Rex?" Cody sounded baffled to see this, somewhat of a cold greeting.

"What did you except?" Crosshair piped at Cody earning a scowl from him in return.

"Why are you pointing blasters at us?" Cody asked then, as at this point, he had already lowered his own which had been pointed at Crosshair.

"We don't exactly trust you. Either of you." Wrecker barked at them.

There was a moment of silence, none of them talking or moving.

"Fine!" Cody threw his weapon on the ground. "I surrender."

"What about him?" Rex asked nodding towards Crosshair.

"I kind of promised he could go." Cody glanced at Crosshair who did not look happy at all. "You know, go back to the Empire?" Cody tried to explain, not that it seemed to have any effect on Rex or the others.

Rex was silent for a moment, thinking it through and then shaking his head he said.

"No, I'm afraid I can't let that happen."

"What?" Cody and Crosshair both exclaimed in unison.

"He is far too valuable. Rampart's lap dog." Rex remarked snidely. Yeah, he could do it too, with the best of them. Rex then turned to the Batchers. "We could use him."

"Rex!" Hunter objected in a low tone. "He is one of us."

"Was one of us. There is a difference." Rex corrected, sounding callous even. A surprise at least to Cody.

After all, Rex had always been the lenient one of the two. The friendly one even, and now? Well, it seemed that he too, had changed. Rex seemed harsh somehow, his stance more rigid than Cody remembered ever seeing.

"Oh come on Rex. I mean sure, Crosshair is prick and all. And he has a really lousy attitude, but he is one of us." Echo tried to defend Crosshair.

A total surprise for Crosshair, as the two of them had usually only argued in the past. Well, mostly, but they had been, a family, way back when.

But, Rex did not comment further. It was clearly the end of discussion for him. With his decision being made and the law right now.

"Take them both." Rex ordered the squad. "We need to leave before more imps turn up."

And with that, both Cody and Crosshair were escorted at blaster point to the Marauder. After all, Rex was in charge, something which even the Batch accepted.

They had arrived at the rebel base. Well, they assumed Rex and his merry band of the Bad Batch and most likely many others were part of the rebellion. Both Cody and Crosshair having been escorted to an area, which was clearly a makeshift brig. They were all still there, the whole squad and Rex. But on their way to the holding area, Cody and Crosshair had seen quite a few familiar faces there. Clones.

As Rex and the Batchers were about to turn and leave after placing the two in separate cells, Cody decided to talk. Even if most of the flight to the base and the brief walk to the brig had been done in mostly uncomfortable silence.

"I have intel you might need." Cody said then.

The others turned, clearly interested to hear what Cody was on about.

"What kind of intel?" Rex asked him flatly, his face housing the same blank expression since they had been reunited.

"Well, I did hack the Empire's database and downloaded some files before I, well, left." Cody said to Rex with a hint of a smirk, after all, he was a deserter now. "It's in my vest."

The two of them still handcuffed, even if they were in a brig. Clearly, Rex and the others did not want to take any chances with the two imperial clones.

Rex nodded to Echo and Wrecker. Wrecker remained standing guard, while Echo opened the ray shield of the cell. Echo then reached for Cody's vest pocket for the data rod he found there.

"Found it." Echo told Rex as he pulled the cylinder out and waving it for all to see.

Rex simply nodded to him as the cell shield was once again raised after Echo and Wrecker stepped out.

"We will check this and see if there is something we can use." Rex told Cody in a rather resigned tone, doubting it was simply a ploy from the imperial clone.

"There is data about a project as well. It's called War Mantle." Cody started, getting Rex's attention now.

Rex stepped back and closer to the ray shield separating the two.

"It's about an objective to phase down all clones troopers currently serving the Empire." Cody went on, having Rex's intent glare on him, clearly listening to what Cody was telling him.

"Not this again!" Crosshair snarled and rolled his eyes.

But that comment actually peeked Rex's interest despite Crosshair's comment. Rex's expression changing from the cold and distant one to something, well, more friendly. But, even if Cody had brought this intel to them, Rex was not trusting the man, not yet anyway.

"Well, we'll see what's there and validate it." Rex finally said and then motioned for his squad to leave. "I'll let you know what we decide." He simply said and let too.

"Well done Cody! Well done!" Crosshair's sarcastic tone was back again as he clapped in a mock cheer.

"We'll see."

Cody had resigned for now, not caring of whatever Crosshair was retorting. After all, they were both prisoners now. Luckily, this was not the Empire and hopefully, neither of them would get shot. Cody felt tired and swiped his face with his palm. The happenings so far taking yet another toll on the Commander. Taking a seat on one of the bunks in the brig, he sighed heavily.

"I trust Rex to do the right thing."

Cody simply stated, wanting to end the conversation before it even started.

Because Cody did. Trust Rex, far more than any other clone, trooper or other being for that matter in the whole wide galaxy. But, on some level, he was disappointed in the way Rex had treated him. Then again, what had he expected? If their roles had been reversed? Cody would most likely had done the exact same thing, right?

Hunter and Rex were in Rex's office. Hunter having been none too impressed in the decision to use Crosshair as leverage. Against the Empire. And so, Hunter was now trying to argue his point of the same.

"Look, I know Crosshair is a difficult and a total dick. And he has his solicited opinions even if nobody asked for them. And that he can be a real pain in the shebs too. But Crosshair is our kin, our pain to deal with. Not some Empire's."

Hunter was adamant in defending Crosshair, no matter what he had done, wanting Crosshair back as there was the option for that once again, thrown right in their laps.

Rex simply glared at the Sergeant.

It wasn't really Crosshair that had him riled up even. Rather seeing Cody again. As it was, Rex had thought the man to be dead. But then the rumours had started. Of a clone, a Commander working for the Empire, winning victories in their name. And that was way before Rex knew about Crosshair having jumped ship.

"I don't trust him. Either of them." Rex told Hunter flatly, not really looking at Hunter rather his thoughts being on Cody.

"They have both been under the influence of the imps for far tool long." Rex reminded Hunter, looking at him then. "Besides, Crosshair clearly is not even interested in coming back to us. He told you that himself, remember? He went back to them, freely." Rex reminded Hunter of that which had expired back on Kamino.

"Yeah, well, Crosshair is back now. Or at least, there is a chance to convince him now." Hunter tried again. "And we are not using him. For anything. If he is not willing to." Hunter reminded Rex of his earlier threat to Rex while discussing the matter, of not letting Crosshair to be used as a pawn, no matter what. "Crosshair, is one of us, no matter what anyone else thinks."

Rex looked at Hunter for a moment, seeing the hope there in his eyes. Hunter trying so hard to save Crosshair, because that was what he was trying to do. Even if he most likely did not want to be saved.

"Fine." Rex told him, about the part of extracting any intel from Crosshair or using him against the Empire in some form or another.

"Good." Hunter nodded, only too happy to hear Rex had come to his senses.

"It might be impossible you know." Rex's voice was low, sounding sadder than before. "Have you ever considered that?" Rex asked Hunter. "Crosshair is he who is. He told you as much himself. What if the Empire really is what he wants?"

Hunter glared at Rex, not really hearing what Rex was saying at the moment. "I can't believe that. I refuse to believe that."

Hunter was fuming. Hearing all the Bantha shit about Crosshair wanting to stay with the Empire? Hunter had never really believed it was true. Only something Crosshair had spat out in anger for being left behind. Hunter was still hurting, even after all this time. They were all hurting, most likely Crosshair too.

The Batch had offered Crosshair a chance back then and he had chosen the Empire. They had all been wrong about him. But mistakes had been made, on both sides. And now? If there was even a slight chance that they could convince Crosshair to come back to the fold, then Hunter was willing to do his very best in trying to convince Crosshair to do so.

"I refuse to let him slip away again. Not this time. Not on my watch!"

Hunter was being honest about it too. As even if he had to keep Crosshair in the brig for the rest of his life? Well, that might not be a good thing for any of them. But, Hunter had sworn to try to convince the man to stay. With everything he got.

Hunter left the room and Rex. Who was still reeling in his own thoughts about Cody. And whether or not his friend really was the turncoat Rex so desperately needed him to be. While the data still being checked and authenticated by Tech and Echo. They would soon find out if indeed the rumours of the project, War Mantle, were all real or not. And then only could Rex start trusting Cody again. Only hoping his trust would not be misplaced.


"So, this, is how it's going to be." Crosshair's snide grit was back.

Crosshair was in the brig. He was their prisoner. Not one of their long lost and welcomed back kin. And so far he was hating every moment of this, so called reunion as Cody had so expectantly put it. And where was he now? Being all chummy with his old buddy, Rex!

At least, that was how it had looked like when they had come for the Commander. Apparently having validated the data which Cody had so graciously brought them. The same stuff they had shown Crosshair. Not that he believed it was true. Any of it. At least, Crosshair had to believe it was a fake. Made for his benefit, right?

And so, here Crosshair was. Having the same old argument with Hunter once again. Nothing had really changed, had it? The blame still weighing heavily on him, simply for wanting to make his stance with the Empire.

"It's really up to you, isn't it." Hunter stated flatly, feeling tired of the circling argument he was having with Crosshair. "You saw the recording. No clone is safe. Not even you."

Crosshair only huffed in response.

"You said your chip was removed." Hunter tried again even if talking with Crosshair, especially now in Crosshair's current state of mind was more like pulling teeth. "But what if they lied to you?"

"I saw the proof." Crosshair countered him.

"What if it was fake?"

Hunter was not letting this go either, because if Crosshair suggested they had faked data, so could the Empire have done too. Even more easily and believable so.

"Look, you said it yourself. Or rather Tech did. I am rigid and unyielding." Crosshair reminded Hunter of how he really was. "I believe in structure. In the order of things. It is who I am."

Crosshair was not loving this either. Arguing against his own nature. Defending his decisions, and to Hunter no less. He was getting tired. More and more irritated every passing moment as the wee chat they were having continued its never-ending impasse.

"Look, whatever it is, whomever you are. Even if it is a major pain in the shebs most of the time, we still want you back. All of us do." Hunter's eyes were glued on Crosshair, who was glaring back at him with a challenging look.

Hunter was pleading his case now, his tactics changing for every counter argument Crosshair was throwing his way. Hunter was adamant not to let go. He had made a promise to himself and to the rest of the Batch. Trying his all to make Crosshair change his mind about the Empire and then staying with his family.

"I don't think so, Hunter. We had our fun and now it's over." Crosshair told him flat on.

"Would you at least let the doctors check you up?"

Hunter was sure there was still something effecting Crosshair, even if it wasn't the chip. But he had seen the scarring on top of Crosshair's head and it had been extensive. So perhaps there were some remnants still there, causing this drastic behaviour. Because it was, drastic, even for Crosshair.

Crosshair snarled, glared and paced in the confined area of the brig. After a moment, he finally stepped close enough to the ray shield, standing almost toe to toe with Hunter.

"Fine." Crosshair stated flatly. "And then when you find nothing, you will let me go back." He demanded yielding to the situation as it seemed to be his only way out.

"I doubt you will want to go back." Hunter tried. "The evidence…"

"The evidence!" Crosshair's arms flew up in the air, shaking his head in disbelief. "You know as well as I do data can easily be falsified." He could not believe they were still on about the so called imperial data of all things.

"Tech proved it was not." Hunter was also not letting it go, being as stubborn as Crosshair.

Crosshair squinted his eyes, the narrowest they could get. "How can I be sure Tech did not falsify the data for your benefit?"

"It never ends with you, does it? The paranoia is a constant isn't it?"

Hunter was fully versed with how Crosshair had liked to concoct theories about conspiracies and such while still part of the squad. It had served them well in the past. Having picked up the useful parts of Crosshair's ideas and comments and then being able to apply extra caution during their hit and run missions.

But this? This was way out there in the twilight zone of things. The traits and faults of the man having been pushed to the max by the Empire. It was what they did, Hunter knew of course. But it was starting to get old really fast as nothing seemed to reach Crosshair, neither words or actions.

"If you are so concerned about my frame of mind… then why not simply let me go?" Crosshair seemed to be adamant of one thing at least. Him leaving.

"No." Hunter was no worse in his stance.

They two stood for a long and silent moment glaring at each other, neither backing up.


"I will agree to the check-up. And then, I will leave."

Crosshair ended the conversation, leaving Hunter to only glare at him, before he nodded and left.

The doctors on the base, were mostly nat-born recruits having served the former Republic. Having joined the cause, the rebellion if you will, fighting and working alongside the clones with many other civilians as well.

The medical team had completed their extensive checks of Crosshair. And, they had found some damage done by the chip inside of Crosshair's brain after all.

Sharing the results with both the patient and Hunter who had been remained by Crosshair's side during the procedures. Nobody else had been there as per request by Crosshair's. Not willing to share his medical condition with anyone else except Hunter. Not trusting any of them.

But on some level, Crosshair still trusted Hunter. At least enough to let the other man stay. Feeling comforted by Hunter's presence, even if Crosshair would never admit it out loud.

Surprisingly, these findings were news to Crosshair. The look on his face was a dead give-away for Hunter when the doctors had told him of their findings right after the check-up was completed.

But, it was not so for Hunter.

Hunter had been a strong believer in the chip either still being present or then of some kind of brain washing having been done by the imperials. Something which they were known to do among other horrid things.

Hunter had really never lost the hope of getting Crosshair back, despite all the mistakes having been made along the way. The other Batchers had all believed it too. That somehow, there was more to Crosshair's change of heart, than simply him being whom he was. Something Crosshair had so adamantly claimed back on Kamino when their ways had parted the last time.

"And so, what would your recommendations be, doctor?"

Hunter had taken over the conversation as Crosshair seemed to be at a loss of words. Glaring at the medical personnel, his mouth opening and getting closed, without any words pouring out. His usual spite, all but gone.

Hunter was addressing the lead doctor of the group, as they seemed to have the most experience of them all, while often having commented and guided the rest of the group durning the overall procedure.

"Well, as I mentioned, the damage caused by the blast the patient sustained in turn caused the inhibitor chip to split into several pieces."

The doctor being well versed with Crosshair's medical history, something of a prerequisite before they had agreed to even do any kind of checks on him.

"And as we can see here and here." They pointed at the various scans done of Crosshair and the two clearly visible areas of his brain where there were seemingly objects which did not belong there.

"We would need to remove these." They looked at Hunter, making sure he was following before they continued. "Those are the fragments left behind from the previous removal process."

So, the Empire had royally karked-up!

Treating Crosshair and then leaving whatever they could not remove easily behind. Or then, it had been done on purpose. Whichever the case was, it was the most likely cause of the rather extreme changes in Crosshair's behaviour. About to cause more damage in the future, possibly even death as the doctors had warned after their findings, if not removed.

As the doctor had clearly explained before even starting anything. Both to Crosshair and Hunter. Them being somewhat of an expert on the inhibitor chips by now after having seen so many and removed as many too. The effects the chips had on pre-existing behavioural patterns, having caused problems on several other clones they had treated so far. While some, remained unaffected by the chips. Similar to Hunter and Tech.

Hunter glanced from the doctor to Crosshair, who was listening into the explanation of the doctor intently. But in his current frame of mind, Crosshair was still weaving all kinds of conspiracy theories and had trouble believing even half of what the doctor was telling him. Even if he was clearly seeing the end results of his own brain scans on the projected view screen.

As there were no comments forthcoming from either clone, the doctor continued.

"Now, what we can do is to remove the fragments. But." They paused and glanced at both men. "It will be a difficult procedure. And not without danger to the patient. This, is highly delicate work." The doctor reminded them both, not that any kind of brain surgery wasn't, delicate.

Hunter knew what he wanted to do, even if there was a risk for Crosshair. But the danger of loosing him once again to the Empire? Well, that alone outweighed any risks the surgery might cause, even death. Then again, it would be wrong for Hunter to force Crosshair under the proverbial knife.

Wouldn't it?

"Well, I will leave you two to talk about it then." The doctor motioned for the team to take their leave of the patient and his caretaker, as they clearly saw Hunter as.

A silence fell between the two former squad mates.

If Hunter really wanted for Crosshair to remain, the operation was the only option for him to do so. As there was clearly no way, part from brainwashing, to make Crosshair change his mind about wanting to go back to the Empire.

"You cannot force him!" Echo stated flatly. "That would make you no better than those imps who caused this to happen in the first place!"

Hunter had spoken with the Batch of the medical findings, naturally. They were all family and whatever Crosshair liked to believe now, he was still part of them. No matter what had happened.

"Well…" Tech piped in but before he could finish his sentence, Echo finished it for him.

"It is wrong and we all know it!"

Tech rolled his eyes but then said what he had intended to say before Echo had interrupted him.

"Like I tried to tell you, technically, it is not wrong."

"How can it not be?" Echo argued some more not following the though process Tech was on.

"For two reasons." Tech counted. "One, he is our prisoner being an enemy combatant. A prisoner of war if you will and there really are no rules anymore on how to treat said prisoners."

It was a grim way to put it, but it was the truth. After the Empire had taken over, the treatment of POWs seemed to vary according to whomever was in charge of them at any given time. And it usually never was good for the prisoners.

"Second." Tech paused as this was somewhat of a far fetched one, even for him. But he needed to point it out just the same. "Technically, if not considering the fact that Crosshair rejoined the Empire and not taking into account the circumstances how it happened. Well, he is still a member of our squad and thus, falls under Hunter's jurisdiction, as he is medically impaired to decide for himself."

"You can't be serious." Echo was clearly highly against pushing the forced surgery on Crosshair.

"Why are you so adamant of this? Don't you want Crosshair back?" Tech just had to ask.

"It has nothing to do with that." Echo tried to explain. "What irks me about this matter is, that we are completely ignoring Crosshair's wishes. We, are no better than the Kaminoans or the imps."

"Well, since you put it that way." Tech kind of understood where Echo was coming from too.

Hunter glared from Tech to Echo and back. This was not helping him at all in making the best decision. If it was the right one, that was a whole other matter. Hunter could of course have gone to Rex. But this was a family matter. And so, only the Batch could decide on what to do.

Hunter turned to Wrecker then, awaiting his response.

"Well, I kinda see both sides here."

"You are not really helping. Any of you!"

Hunter threw his arms in the air in despair. As it was, this was turning out to be one helluva none reunion for the Bad Batch if no decisions could be reached before it was too late. Hunter felt the burden of leadership weighing heavily on him. He was damned if he did and damned if he did not do. Either way, it was Crosshair's very life that was on the line. And Hunter, needed to decide.

Lost trust can be hard to earn back

In the end, it did not really matter what the decision which could not be made would have been.

Hunter got the comm call later during the day, after Crosshair had been moved back to the brig.

Whatever the reasons of the incident happening now? Well, there really were no good explanations to it. Only the simple fact remained. Crosshair had suffered a stroke. He had been moved back to the medical bay and was lying on med bed of the operating theatre when Hunter arrived there.

"Doctor! What happened?" Hunter was somewhat panicked seeing Crosshair lying there, completely unmoving hooked up to several medical devices.

"The remnants of the inhibitor chip. As I you warned before. That it might cause more damage in the long run. And so, here were are. Sooner than later." It was a rather clinical statement, albeit the truth.

"Is he dying?" Hunter had a lump in his throat, his voice thicker and lower than usually.

"He will. If, we don't try to remove the fragments right away." The doctor told Hunter. "At this point, the odds are not good." They were blunt, but telling the truth was the doctor's objective, always.

Hunter glared at doctor and back at Crosshair.

"I guess, we don't really have a choice here any more."

Hunter had not wanted it to come to this. But then again, somewhere deep down he was glad he was off the hook. The decision only having been made because of the dire situation. Odds being that of dying or possibly surviving if the surgery was successful.

"Then we will begin."

Cody's chip had been removed and he was recovering in the med bay.

There had been little if no side effects of his surgery as it seemed the chip had started to loose its power to begin with. Still, for Cody, it meant he was finally free. Of the control of the Kaminoans, the Empire. And despite his status of being a deserter in the eyes of his former employer and untrusted by his old friends?.

Cody could not have been more exhilarated. Of all the prospects lying ahead of him. There being no more orders to follow. Well, not at least the kind which would make him doubt his part in them. No, the future was wide open to the Commander. Well, guess he was not that anymore either. Simply a man, trying to make his way through the galaxy.

Cody could not have been more proud of his choice to jump ship at the very moment.

This place, these people, this cause. Cody knew he belonged. Finally.

Hoping only that his help would be welcomed. After all, Cody had done some terrible things. And he was pretty sure, that Rex knew about them all too. Something about his friends demeanour was a dead giveaway. Rex had never been good at hiding those kinds of things. His feelings. That was why his Sabacc face had been so terrible. Mostly loosing the games they had played.

It wasn't just the fact that Cody was able to read Rex.

There were pretty obvious signs that Cody was not trusted. Not the way he would have liked to. The most visible ones, the two troopers standing guard in the med bay. The shadows which had been following him ever since touch down on this very base.

Then again, Crosshair was there too, recovering from his surgery as well. Something which Cody had learnt from Hunter and Echo. And that it had been a difficult one. Causing the clone to seizure and there had been touch and go there for a moment. Cody who had been under surgery himself and not aware to what had been happening around him, having found it out only later.

Still, he was glad Crosshair had made it and was recovering.

Another failure for the Empire to keep the clones in check. As it was Cody had been thoroughly briefed of the inhibitor chips and what had happened to so many clones. Not to mention the 501st sad tale. But that could not be helped now even if Cody grieved all of their lost brethren.

With all the anger still within strong. Of all he had been doing in the name of the Empire, even if the chip was to blame. For most of it anyway. Like a good soldier he had been. Following orders, and blindly at that.

But, Cody was willing to pay his dues. To do the right thing for a change. And most of all, try to help those who could not help themselves. Save as many of the clones still out there, doing Force knew what. Some of them slaves. Some prisoners of the Empire, and all the troopers still loyal soldiers of the same evil regime. And if Rex would have him, Cody was willing to put whatever effort was needed to make this, rebellion, a success.

Cody was deep in his musings, the good, the bad and the ugly. All of them swirling like a raging storm in his mind. Even if he had tried to push the bad and the ugly aside, they kept on popping up there. Berating the man of all the wrong doings. Guess it was the price to pay, after all. Still, Cody was determined to pay for his sins. Only wandering how Crosshair would fair with his own demons. After all, he had been worse off than Cody, at least if the rumours again, were true.

Cody looked up as if sensing a new arrival in the med bay. And he was right. It was Rex who had come and see him.

"Cody!" Rex greeted him with a hint of a smile present, even if he still seemed somewhat reserved.

"Rex!" Cody was only too happy to see his friend no matter what their current status was.

"How are you feeling?" Rex asked, keeping things on a more casual level.

"Better than in a while." Cody smiled widely. "Guess I had not even realised how being myself really felt after such a long time of being, well, controlled." Cody was not trying to hide the facts being what they were.

"Yeah, so I've heard!" Rex let out a small laugh.

After all, Rex had only been affected by the chip for so long before Ahsoka had managed to remove it. But he could relate to what Cody was saying through the many tales the other clones having gone through worse situations under the chips control.

"So, what's with the shadows Rex?" Cody tossed the question casually to his old pal, even if it was anything but, because he was pretty sure they were there for him too.

"About that." Rex started.

Rex finally stepped closer to Cody's bedside after having kept his distance. Still. Rex stood there silent for a moment as clearly he had not expected quite the forward question Cody had thrown his way. Then again, this was Cody. Being all in your face and direct. Rex should have known better.

"You were under the Empire's influence for a long time." Rex was looking straight into Cody and there was no use in trying to lie to him at this point. "And I have seen what those chips can make you do. Felt it too." Rex had yet to tell his own sad tale to Cody, but that could wait. "And we have to be sure you are not a threat." Rex was honest at least.

"Even with the chip removed?" Cody asked then.

But he wasn't really surprised. After all, Crosshair was the best example of what the chip could do, even if removed.

"Even with the chip removed." Rex told him flat on.

"So, the shadows will be there for a while then?" Cody asked.

"Until we can be sure there is no relapse." Rex said. "And there is more."

"Oh?" Cody was almost afraid to hear the more.

"It is standard procedure now." Rex said.

After all, they had learnt from an incident in the beginning when a trooper who had similarly worked for the Empire for a long time and then having the chip removed. But something had gone wrong and the trooper had gone all bonkers and started shooting without a reason. Luckily they had managed to subdue the clone and nobody had been hurt, not much anyway. After that, several security protocols had been put in place after a surgery done to any clone to remove the inhibitor chip.

"You are free to move around the base, most areas anyway. There will be a guard or two at all times. And there is no leaving the base until we are sure of your total recovery." Rex laid down the law.

Cody was silent for a moment. But after thinking of the his options, Cody nodded and simply replied. "Sounds fair enough."

"Good, I am glad we are on the same page here." Rex said to Cody.

As it was most of the recovered clones understood this, even if a few had not.

A general meeting for the staff had been ordered to session. Rex had invited the new arrivals, Cody and Crosshair to join the meeting, as they had both been discharged and were now free to move about the base. With their respective shadows of course.

Those working with Rex were all present. Gregor, Rex's right hand man. Howzer, whom the rebels had managed to rescue together with his band of merry troopers while on their way to oblivion. A few other clones were there as well. And then of course, the Bad Batch. The squad now being a part of the so called inner circle of Rex's cause. The decision making part as it was.

These people with all the many rescued and found clone troopers were the so called rebels. And, with so many civilians joining each and every day? Well, this was becoming quite the stepping stone for an uprising.

"Point of order." Rex called the meeting to a start the chatter around the table coming to a halt. "Now, most of you are already familiar with our latest arrivals."

Rex did not use the word recruits, as there really had not been any official nor unofficial talks for that matter whether Cody or Crosshair would join them or not. As it was, they had been mostly in sickbay and their contact with the rest of the crew had been kept to a minimal.

As it was for Cody, he had delivered the highly valued data rod to Rex at get go and so proving his willingness to join or at least help them.

But for Crosshair? Well his situation was still that of being on the defensive as to the whole small army of rebels. And he had snarled out at one point to Hunter, when visiting the sniper in the med bay. That of not wanting to change one cult to another. Whatever Crosshair had really meant by his obscure but not entirely wrong comment, Hunter was unsure of.

"Marshal Commander Cody and Lieutenant Crosshair, formerly of Clone Force 99." Rex introduced the two of them.

Rex deliberately used the two clones former ranks and designations rather than those they had gained while working for the Empire.

Both Cody and Crosshair nodded their greetings to the rest of the group present around the conference table.

Hunter of course had been having a small chat with Crosshair to prep the man for this meeting, and telling him in no small words to behave himself.

After all Hunter had a lot invested in getting Crosshair back and joining the cause. And so, making the preparations just in case Crosshair was in one of his moods. Something which was not unusual, as he did pick up fights even before the chip had activated. But Crosshair had been much more confrontational since then.

Now the chip was gone and so were the fragments. Still, the mental part of it all, had a longer road ahead as Hunter had witnessed a few times already, during his visits to the med bay.

Howzer of course had worked with Crosshair on Ryloth and then ended up at the wrong end of the barrel of the Commander's. He was definitely none to happy to have Rampart's firsthand man showing up at the base. As it was, Captain Howzer did not trust Crosshair. Chip being the excuse of most of the things the former Commander had done, Howzer really did not care.

Nor did Howzer believe. that Crosshair had any desire to join their cause. After having seen the Clone Commander in action first hand, there was no doubt in Howzer's mind that Crosshair was still Empire through and through. And no matter what Hunter or his Batch had tried to assure him of, well, it just did not stick well with the Captain at all.

"So, Crosshair! Fancy seeing you leaving the Empire behind." Howzer just had to, it was too good of an opportunity not to through that snide remark in there.

Naturally, Crosshair had not been the only clone to have been prepped before the meeting.

Rex had warned Howzer, that the former Clone Commander would be at their meeting. But also, that Rex had every intention of accepting him to the fold. If Crosshair chose to do so. Something still up in the air.

Howzer, albeit a mild mannered and usually peaceful man, had immediately raised his concerns regarding Crosshair. Rex was well versed with the tales and their shared history. Knowing that both Cody and Crosshair had done their fair share of atrocities, even if in the Empire's eyes they had simply been good soldiers following orders.

Crosshair simply snorted at Howzer's comment before replying to the man in his usually snide tone.

"I did not leave. I was abducted."

Crosshair wasn't lying either, as it had been Cody who had basically forced him with.

"So, you don't really want to be here."

It wasn't a question Howzer placed on the table, rather an observation.

Before Crosshair was able to respond, Hunter kicked him under the table, getting Crosshair's attention and making an expression intended for Crosshair only to not to respond with a 'no'.

Crosshair's brows knitted and his eyes narrowed. But Hunter matched his glare, only hoping it would have an affect on him. And that Crosshair would back down. A moment passed between Hunter and Crosshair.

Crosshair finally turned to Howzer, his usual scowl in place and the gave him a response, albeit somewhat ambiguous.

"That, is still under debate."

Howzer gave Crosshair a matching glare. This was not the Empire any more and the other clone was certainly not his superior either. Backing up was no longer an option for Howzer.

"Alright gents!" Rex broke off the glare stance. "If you are about done rattling your sabres, we do have some business to attend to."

The glare was broken and they all turned to their leader, Rex, who then started going through the agenda for the meeting.

Special ops run

Several weeks had passed since Commander Cody and Crosshair had come to the rebel base as lead by Captain Rex. They had both healed from their injuries, physical ones to be more exact. But, the mental part would take a long time to recover. Especially for Cody as he was quite remorseful of what he had been a part of and what his contributions had been. The nightmares were the worst to handle and mostly, Cody avoided sleeping. Something which was not good at all.

Luckily for Cody and Crosshair, there were similar tales told by other clones, who had served the Empire. And so, there were group chats to discuss in as lead by medical professionals, civilians lending a helping hand in trying to help the clones overcome their trauma.

Of course there was the fact that even if the guards watching the duo had been removed after some time and fashion, neither of them had been allowed to leave the base. It was a security measure of course. And even if both clones were privy to the mission briefs and other goings on on the base, Rex had not redeemed either to be fit enough to part take on any kind of outgoing task or job the other clones were involved in.

Then there was the matter for Crosshair.

As it was Crosshair had yet to adapt to the life outside the Empire. He was bored and felt shunned by the others. Even if it wasn't mostly true. The mental hold the Empire still had on him, seemed to be worse than in him than in the other clones. Hunter and the rest of the Batchers were trying their very best to assure Crosshair he would be fine and that they were all glad he was back. Having even spent a lot of time with the man, whenever they were not on a mission.

But it seemed that despite their efforts, Crosshair, while left to his own devices, when the Batch took off on missions, Crosshair spent his time sulking. Being overall grouchy and picking up fights. He was not a happy camper at all. But he was taking part in the sessions even if he rarely shared anything personal like the rest of the clones did. He did however, make snide remarks, well, sometimes. Less than more often. Somewhat of a personal growth, perhaps?

Still, Hunter had assured Rex that Crosshair would come around. Oddly enough, it was Cody, who had been backing Hunter up in his assessment of the former Clone Commander.

Despite the rough start for Cody and Crosshair, after the minor incident of kidnapping and all. And most likely because Crosshair felt Cody had betrayed the Empire after the two of them had worked side by side for a long while under Rampart's watchful eye. Crosshair having thought he had found his soul brother to stand beside him in the war against the insurgents and rebels. Only to be kidnapped and brought to the very base they had been fighting against.

Well, it seemed that due to this shared ordeal, the two of them were sharing kind of a bond.

They did share their meals and even have a few chats here and there. Taking their training rounds together. As it was, currently, the two of the were the only clones not used for any missions. So, having time on their hands they could pretty much do whatever they wanted, to an extent of course. Besides, Cody was most likely the only clone commander, besides Rex, whom Crosshair had had any respect for way back when during the Republic order.

But, the other clones? Well, either it was them or then it was simply Crosshair and his mental state which caused the unease in him and elicited to verbal assaults against his fellow clones. Still, it all changed like flicking a switch when the Batch was back on base. It was not something Crosshair admitted to, not that anyone had asked, not really. But Rex and Cody had both seen it. His Batch had a positive effect on the man.

And so, perhaps there was still hope for Crosshair after all.

"Crosshair!" Hunter jogged in the long hallway after the other clone. "Wait up!"

Hunter was returning from a meeting with Rex, having been briefed on a mission the Bad Batch was assigned on. And this time, it was good news for Crosshair as well.

"You mean you want to take Crosshair with you?"

Rex had read between the lines Hunter had just laid out to him. A plan to infiltrate an imperial facility, not really naming the sources he would want to use, but it was too obvious the way Hunter had spoken about it.

"Well, he is our best choice." Hunter was not about to defend his request, even if it was a round about way to bring forth the fact he wanted Crosshair to join the Batch on this mission.

Rex was glaring at Hunter. And for a moment Hunter feared their great leader might deny the request.

"Fine!" Rex stated much to Hunter's surprise.

"It is?" Hunter had to double check, just in case he had heard the man wrong.

"It is." Rex let a faint smile emerge onto his face. "But with one condition."

Of course. There usually were conditions. Especially when Hunter brought up ill-solicited suggestions such as this one was. After all, it was a risk to take Crosshair back to the Empire. Hunter knew it. They all knew it. But it was time.

"What is it?" Hunter asked.

"Cody will come with you too." Rex looked at Hunter as if trying to see any objection present.

After all, neither Cody nor Crosshair had been allowed to leave the base so far. And they were both, if they were honest, at risk to become turncoats. Nobody really knew the extent of the mind control the Empire had on their minions. Despite the chips removal and the extensive follow-ups not to mention psychologic evaluations and sessions both men had had. It was still, a grave risk to put either of them in a position where they had direct access to the Empire.

"Agreed." Hunter replied simply.

As it was, both Cody and Crosshair would be great assets for this specific mission, despite the dangers. "What is it?" Crosshair's snarled but turned on his heels stopping his movement. Not that he minded it was Hunter calling after him, not any more, rather the opposite.'

"Good news!" Hunter caught up with Crosshair.

Crosshair looked at the Sergeant with a hint of suspicion in his glare. After all, good news, especially these days, were more of a matter of opinion than really being that, good news.

"You are cleared to join us on a mission." Hunter's grin was wide as clearly, the man had wanted this to happen for some time now, but so far, all his requests had been denied.

It was then when something appeared onto Crosshair's face. Something the uninitiated could not recognise. A smirk of sorts. But Hunter knew what it was. He had seen it before after all. Seeing that Crosshair was actually positively surprised for a change. After all the time and hard work put in, Crosshair was finally ready to join his Batch and get out there. Go on a mission.

However, the forever lurking doubt the man seemed to house quickly raised its ugly head.

"You are sure?" Crosshair's frown was back.

"I am. Rex gave his stamp of approval." Hunter assured Crosshair.

"I see." Crosshair did, but he would only smile again when he was actually inside the Marauder and in space headed somewhere else than the base.

"Cody will be joining us too." Hunter then revealed.

As soon as that was said, something clicked in the other clone. A revelation of sorts.

"We are going to visit the Empire." It was a statement of fact rather than a question.

"We are." Hunter said and the grin quickly faded. "Is that okay for you?"

Crosshair's mind filled with so many things at that very realisation. Feelings, sensations, memories, mostly bad. But, no matter what, he knew they were putting their trust in him. and so, he needed to put all those things aside and concentrate on the mission he was finally allowed to partake in.

"It will be." Crosshair responded to Hunter honestly after searching his inner most thoughts. "I, will be."

Mission objective

The Marauder had taken off the base and was flying through hyperspace.

"We'll be at the target coordinates within two standard hours." Tech stated, manning the helm with Echo as per their usual.

Hunter, Wrecker, Crosshair and Cody were seated in the mid section of the Marauder, while Omega had remained behind on the base.

It was by Rex's request as he had some other task for her to do. Besides, this was not really a mission for Omega to be on as Rex was still having his suspicions about Cody and Crosshair.

As Rex had told Hunter as much in private. That this was to be their proving ground. Whether they would return with the Batch or not remained to be seen. A test for both of their loyalties really. Something which Hunter did not approve of to be done to them. At all. But then again, it needed to be done. And Hunter knew it as well as Rex did. Still, he had to believe Crosshair and Cody were on their side now.

"Everyone on par as to what we are going to do when we get there?" Hunter asked.

Hunter had given the brief already to the squad before taking off, but he wanted to be sure there would be no mistakes.

Hunter was also worried about the two former imps seated by his side. As no matter how much assurance he had gotten from various sources, Hunter still wasn't sure this was good for either of them. Despite him not agreeing with Rex assessment of the two either. But the gnawing feelings still remained deep down within Hunter.

That one or the other or both, would jump ship as soon as the opportunity presented itself. This was their trial by fire. Cody's and Crosshair's. And Hunter was rooting for them both. For all their sakes.

"We are." It was almost a unified response from the all seated beside him.

"Tech will remain with the Marauder, while the five of us will get into the facility and snatch our target."

It was already agreed the Marauder would not land, rather Tech would drop the Batch to the entrance, a backdoor they had found after getting the blue prints of the facility. Tech would stay at a safe distance.

Tech and Echo had managed to render the ship invisible to most radars. A new gadget of sorts the two had built together. Something which would work as long as the ship remained out of visual range of anyone keeping watch.

"The target being a Jedi." Crosshair's voice void of emotion, but there was no malice in his voice, not anymore, simply his statement of fact.

"As far as I know, yes. Or rather a youngling, not a fully trained one." Hunter reminded them.

"The empire is running some op here. The rumour being that of cloning. " Echo told the others as he had joined the group while Tech was manning the helm.

It was Echo and Tech who had been involved in the initial investigation of some of the rumours spreading through the chatter. That the imps were heavily into cloning. It had started when one of the Kaminoans held captive by the Empire had been intercepted by a squad of Rex's troopers. The scientist having been on the run from the imps. And they had then revealed some of the goings on in certain laboratories around the galaxy in exchange for relocation.

"It is odd." Cody said thoughtfully. "The imps wanted to rid of us clones and yet, here they are using the same process to create more or, well, I guess something else."

There was a moment of silence. All of them thinking of the possibilities. And what it would mean to all their brethren when the Empire finally started to dispose of the clones working for them. Replacing them with hired soldiers. As they were clearly cloning something in those facilities, and who knew what else they were cooking in there. A frightening thought to say the least. The whatever was.

"Let's try to keep this as brief as possible." Hunter reminded them. "In and out, no staying longer inside than needed."

It was an odd statement to make for sure. But Hunter then glanced from Cody to Crosshair. It wasn't a warning, but a reminder just the same.

Crosshair gave Hunter a snide glare. The words had clearly hit home, leaving the clone to ponder his situation once again. Like so many times during the past months while adjusting to his new status in the rebel base. Crosshair wasn't happy of being second guessed or being the one whom Hunter did not trust. He kept on glaring at Hunter for a moment longer just the same. Knowing quite well the simple fact. That of their roles being reversed, Crosshair would not have trusted Hunter either. At least not to the fullest.

Cody, while hearing the words and realising they were as much for his benefit as they were for Crosshair's, did not seem to take them too personally though. But, he could understand where the Sergeant and Rex were coming from. After all, the two of them had been exposed to the inhibitor chip and the Empire for a long while. And so, the trust once lost, was not going to be easy to be earned back.

"In and out, Sarge." Cody stated his understanding to Hunter.

It did not take too long for the Marauder to reach the imperial base. After passing the time mostly in comfortable chatter about the mission, they soon were approaching the planet.

"Jumping out of hyperspace." Tech's voice sounded from the cockpit. "We'll be at the drop zone in a few moments."

"Understood." Hunter quipped and turned to the Batch. "Fellas, prepare for the drop."

The entry to the imperial facility had been rather easy, making their way in without much of a hassle.

"Echo, scomp in and check where they are holding the prisoners. The Jedi kid should be there too." Hunter ordered.

After all, the intel had been quite specific. The Kaminoan who had worked there had given them specifics of the facility's layout and the protocols used there and also how many and what kind of prisoners were kept there. Thankfully there were only a few of them there, which the imps were running experiments on. And one being a Jedi youngling.

"Found them!" Echo exclaimed. "Two levels down from here."

"Alright people, let's move before anyone figures out were are here." Hunter then ordered. "Wrecker take the rear. Echo and I will have point."

They then started moving down the corridor in a rapid pace.

Quickly reaching the level their target was on, they started on their way towards the holding area.

"This way." Echo checked the scanner for the life signs present. "I am detecting three distinguished life signs."

"Three?" Hunter was not prepared for that. "There was only supposed to be the one here."

"So, we take them all with us." Wrecker quipped.

"That wasn't the plan." Hunter stated flatly.

Hunter wasn't fond of start to make changes for their simple plan already. In and out. One kid. That had been the plan. He did not want to risk having Cody and Crosshair inside the imps base for longer than necessary.

"It's the right thing to do." Echo doubled Wrecker's sentiment.

"Fine." Hunter's voice strained. "Now let's keep moving before the imps figure out we are here."

The Batch quickly made its way to the holding area.

As they arrived there, Hunter signalled 'halt' with his hand. He could feel the imperial troopers close by. Motioning for the others to take cover, they split into two groups beside the entrance way to the cells.

They could all see the five troopers there. Some standing some seated by the consoles in the lobby area. As if waiting for something to happen. But it clearly wasn't them as they were staring at the screens.

Crosshair froze in his steps when his eyes caught the troopers. He could feel his heart starting to beat faster and the cold sweat forming small droplets onto his forehead. Images from the past flashed through his mind and he could hear the chant starting as well.

"Good soldiers follow orders."

Hunter who had remained on the side of Crosshair's could feel the changes in the other man. The slight twitches Crosshair made, hardly visible, but Hunter could feel them just the same. It was a clear warning sign something was wrong with Crosshair. And clearly, Hunter had underestimated the power of the control the Empire still had on him. Hunter was beginning to worry now, keeping an eye on Crosshair rather than their target.

"Crosshair?" Hunter whispered close to him. "What's going on?"


Crosshair's insides were still in turmoil, but he tried very hard to suppress the lure of the memories. The chant repeating in his mind. His breathing was shallow. Crosshair felt the sweat pouring down his face. His skin feeling sticky beneath the armour and his helmet. Crosshair was at a loss. The only thing he wanted to do right now, was to flee this, situation. The squad and return to…

No, it was not an option! Not any more.

Crosshair tried to remember. What was it again? What the medical assistant had tried to teach them, teach him. A meditation of sorts. He closed his eyes, feeling Hunter's breath close to him. Clearly, the Sarge was worried out of his wits. But this time, Crosshair did not want to disappoint. To be seen as the outcast who betrayed his squad. Again. Because Crosshair knew that was how they had seen him. Even if none of them had said as much.

But this time, he would earn their trust.

A breath in, the another out.

It took another set of the same and then, the soft mantra was there, clear as day.

"I am at peace now. This is my choice to make. I can control my own mind."

The others had turned to look at Hunter and Crosshair, while standing on the opposite side, as if realising something was wrong.

"I am alright, Hunter." Crosshair finally whispered after a lengthy moment.

Hunter waited for a spell. And then, gave the order. "Move in."

The guards inside the control booth never knew what hit them as the precise blaster fire targeted at the five of them made them fall onto the ground in one swell swoop.

Echo quickly scomped into the computer console and they all heard the cell doors opening.

"This way!" Hunter motioned seeing the cell doors on the left side loosing their ray shielding.

Echo, Hunter and Wrecker were in position, seeing the three prisoners there. Quickly checking the rest of the few cells, finding them empty. As they watched and waited, none of the prisoners dared to move, looking small and scared. After all, they were small children.

"They are all, kids." Wrecker's voice was a soft whisper.

"Yeah." Echo agreed equally as softly.

"This one, is our target." Hunter pointed at the third cell, which only had a pod inside of it.

"What is it?" Wrecker asked curiously.

"Not sure." Hunter moved inside and pressed the button on the pod, which hissed open.

Inside, something moved. And then as Hunter leaned closer in, he could see the small creature inside. Big ears, white fluffy hair and large bulging eyes glaring back at him, as if reading whether Hunter was a friend or foe. Deciding on the first choice and letting out a small gurgling noise in response to their would be saviour.

"It's a baby." Echo was right behind him, having left Wrecker to pick up the other two kids.

"Yeah." Hunter sighed.

The two of them quickly figured out that the pod was manoeuvrable and got it hovering in sync with them. It looked like instead of one youngling, they had gotten three instead. Three saved would be Jedi.

As the trio with the kids got back to the control room, they could see both Cody and Crosshair standing there. Both of them frozen in their steps. They glared at the screens, like they were hypnotised. Making the others wonder what was so interesting there to look at. Perhaps a tad worried too as they duo seemed completely spell bound on whatever it was there having them glued in their spots.

As Echo, Hunter and Wrecker reached them, they could see what it was.

It was the Emperor giving a speech. The voice was low, so Echo switched it up a notch. But it did not matter as the images seen there, were speaking volumes.

"And so, the Empire has foiled yet another insurrection." Palpatine's voice boomed.

The images were showing bodies of farmers and similar folk lying dead on the ground of their fields they had once farmed and worked on. Killed where they had stood.

But the next was even more shocking for the clones. Wrecker quickly covered the two small kids eyes he had been carrying and Hunter closed the pod of the third one. It was hardly suitable for anyone to watch, let alone young children.

"And so, these traitors clones will phase their just fate." The Emperor boomed.

They all watched, as several clones were fired upon. Standing before a firing squad, all of them falling to the ground, dead after the blaster fire ended.

Echo turned off the view screens. The silence palpable in the room.

"Still think you made the wrong choice."

Cody's voice was but a coarse whisper, when he turned to Crosshair. Seeing his own reaction reflected in the eyes of the other man. Knowing the doubts defecting had caused him, as it had Cody as well.

The Empire might have given them both a sense of purpose, even if a faulty one. But, leaving it behind, had been the right choice to make for them both. As this, if nothing else, was the proof they had both needed to see. The horrors displayed right in front of them.

"No." Crosshair's low hoarse response left his lips. "I did not."

This, is who we are

"The Jedi children have all been relocated. All of them in safe places across the galaxy where the Empire will not find them with people who will take good care of them."

Rex was only too happy to get the final youngling off the base, as despite all their security measures, he did not want the Empire to find the kids there. Just in case there was a breach.

"Aww. I kinda found them refreshing to hang around with." Wrecker told the others.

Wrecker was sad to see the kids go. As especially the two he had carried all the way from the imperial facility to the Marauder, had hung on to the big man for their dear lives. Which in turn had caused some hassle when they had brought the kids to their base, as Wrecker was the only one they had trusted at first.

"I kind of liked the pod baby." Omega said.

Something they had nicknamed the smallest of the Jedi younglings. Omega had found the big eared foundling to be especially cute, even if they could do little and talk less.

"Well, they are well taken care of now, being with their own kind." Cody assured Wrecker and Omega.

"I know." Omega simply replied even if she did miss them.

"Perhaps someday, you will get to see them again." Hunter tried to console Omega, eliciting a hint of a smile on her face.

They had all been there, even Rex and Cody, while the Bad Batch had delivered the younglings each to their new families. Whom were mostly Force sensitive people who would be able to train the children in the ways of the Force. There had been sadness and crying of course. But in the end, it had been the right thing to do. The base, was a safe haven for those passing by before they could be relocated to more suitable locales.

For the clones however, it was home.

Rex glanced around the table feeling proud and happy. But mostly, he was honoured. Seeing the familiar faces gathered there together. Hunter, Crosshair, Echo, Tech, Wrecker, Omega, Cody, Gregor, Howzer among others having joined the cause Rex had started after learning of the plight so many clone troopers had been facing. But most of all, he had his old and even several new family members at his side.

The Bad Batch was reunited with their lost brother and Cody was back at Rex's side where he belonged. Despite of the sadness surrounding them all, the bad news getting more frequent, there was a sense of determination among the clone troopers now part of the cause. Their goal to help as many clone soldiers out there and trying to bring them into the fold. The Empire reducing the numbers of their serving clone troopers. And so, Rex and the others had their hands full in saving whom they could.

But it did not matter. They were fighting for themselves now. Not some war someone else had invented and then used these clones as tools. Nay, as slaves for their own purposes. Much like the Empire had then continued to do. No. Their fight were for their own freedom. For all the clones and those other countless souls out there whom happened to land in their path and needed saving.

"So, what's next for us?" Echo asked Rex.

Not that they did not have any idea as to what to do. After all, there were several missions going on each and every day. Both rescue and intel gathering and then the many relocation runs for those civilians they also helped.

But, Echo was talking more of the long term plans. After all, there had been several discussions on what they would want to do. The base was getting more crowded each and every day though for now it was fine. However, they needed a more permanent plan as to how to relocate all the clone brethren they were yet about to rescue.

"Well, as we now know, thanks to our intel." Rex nodded at Cody and Crosshair.

Both of them having played a big role in getting all the best information of the Empire's strong holds, their routes and whatnots. Having also run several intel gathering ops together as Cody and Crosshair still had the best information on which facilities to hit for just that purpose. They had both turned a new leaf, seeing the shocking images while rescuing the Jedi children. That having been the final nail in the coffin for their allegiance to the Empire.

"We now have several new prisons to hit and get our brothers out from there." Rex who had already made some plans of starting on that specific process. "So, that will be our first priority."

"We need to scout out for new locations as well." Cody added as he had been pretty much on the side of Rex, helping the other man with everything ever since his trust had been restored. "With so many clones coming in, we need to plan out our housing situation as well."

The planet where the base was on now, was uninhabited, part from the clones, of course. And it was far away from anything remotely Empire. Lush and plentiful as it was, it was still quite small. So, for a more permanent settlement, they needed a much larger planet. And if possible, even farther away from the known galaxy where they could settle in peace after all was said and done.

"We have feelers out there. And we have made a few scans of certain parts of the space as well." Gregor piped in. "I have two teams even now scouting for suitable locales."

Gregor and Howzer had been put in charge of the re-location operations. For both clones and civilians. So far, they had found a few prospects. But a permanent home was still the fantasy of so many of them, not to mention this group. They had agreed on finding a system with a planet or few big enough to house all the clones they could possibly rescue. It was a dream still, but a clone home world sure sounded nice.

"Good, then we will continue with our efforts on all fronts. The next groups will leave tomorrow." Rex stated.

Turning to Hunter and his Batch, Rex smiled a little. As they were pretty much his favourites, even if Rex really did not like to have any trying to be a good leader and all.

"Your squad will take the lead on the next mission."

It was going to be a large operation, three squads infiltrating a mining operation. There would be several hundreds of clones there according to the intel. Both soldiers and cadets who had never been called to duty before the Republic fell.

"I wish you all good luck!" Rex said to his troops. "Bring our family home."

"It is, what we do." Cody smirked and half saluted Rex.

"It is, who we are!" The Batchers sounded out in unison. "Sir!"

To be continued