Chopper used to hate the acrid smell of burning metal. The way the stale stench of machine oil, intermingled with the sickening scents of burned flesh and rot. It got into everything, his armour, and his weapon; even the pores of his flesh, which remained hidden from the horrors of the frontlines.
Now it just reminded him of the slow death. The numb sensations, the fine lines one walked to keep it together and the madness that always loomed at the edge of ones thoughts. The pungent smell held a silent warning that everyone knew, but would never admit. The truth bound the clones and their non-conscripted masters together. They all feared the slow death.
The gunfire slowed now just as the mist from the morning began to clear. The seemingly endless battle was finally ending. The realization filled Chopper with a mixed sense of regret and relief.
At his feet laid the bodies of both man and machine. Their blank faces stared up at him in silent accusation, as though demanding to know why he remained while they were lost. Their broken forms were mangled almost beyond recognition-shrapnel had a way of stripping even the dead of their dignity. Leaving disjointed limbs and remains all over the muddy field.
The macabre image reminded him of Sketch's drawings. He knew his brother would be working relentlessly on them the first chance he had. It was Sketch's way of keeping it together, of ensuring that the dead remained dead.
With great care, Chopper sidestepped the broken bodies of his fallen brothers. He told himself not to look-to really look. He did not want to end up like Fives, whose rest was so tormented by the ghosts that he became addicted to stims. His good eye still put it all to memory.
Death has a dignity of its own.
Chopper frowned to the memory of Gus's attempts to glorify their inevitable fates. Now his headless body laid half buried in the clay-like mud.
"Still think death's dignified?" he softly asked the lifeless form at his feet.
"Nothings dignified about this Echuta," Chopper in equally soft tones. The phantom soldiers that watched on from the lingering mists seemed to agree.
He might not have gotten along with Gus, but even Chopper knew his brother did not deserve this fate. None of them did.
Solemnly he slipped to his knees, as he rested his gun neatly by his leg. Chopper did not expect any further action but he preferred to be prepared. Removing the cutters from his utility belt, he carefully set about his task. The droids may be dead, but their circuitry was very much alive.
With a few sparks, the wires disconnected. The bolts too, came off easily. Shoddy engineering General Skywalker would have said had he been a witness.
Chopper wondered what their commanders said of the men when they were not around. Would they speak well of his brothers, more importantly, would they be regarded as men, or just mere weapons?
Suddenly he froze in mid-action. He could feel another's eyes watching him. Cautiously Chopper took in his surroundings without looking up. From the corner of his eyes, he caught sight of Commander Ahsoka. The young togruta was also avoiding making eye contact.
He wondered if her mentor-General Skywalker-was aware of the fact that his student was already showing symptoms of the slow death. He then wondered if the infamous jedi knight even cared.
As his good eye fell to the metal fingers in his hands, Chopper struggled not to remember the way their metal fingers carved into his flesh. Nor did he allow himself to recall how those very fingers unleashed thousands of volts through his body, the way his right eye made a suction sound as they tore it from its socket.
The holo-news told an epic tale of the jedi generals grand rescue, portraying them as true intergalactic legends.
There had been nothing grand about dragging his broken, tortured body through the mud. Nor was his desperate attempt to dodge the showers of droid laser fire, heroic. There was nothing beautiful about having to hold what remained of his right eye, while his exhausted, tortured mind forced his body to continue its desperate retreat through the swamplands.
His escape had been neither exciting, nor adventurous. It was hell and worse.
The media never mentioned that Chopper had made his escape unaided. Nor was it brought to light that the jedi and his brothers had found him unconscious, half-buried in the mud a few miles north of separatist territory.
Unravelling the knot of his wire necklace Chopper could not help but shudder to the soft clatter of metal on metal. The sound was both soothing a sooth and chilling. It drew him from his thoughts enabling him to complete his task. The copper wire slipped through the boltholes with ease.
He used to believe the necklace would fill the emptiness or at the very least it even the score. Now it kept him from falling apart.
Tying a knot into the wire, he gave it a yank, making it tight before slipping it back over his head. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Gus's lifeless form once more. Next to him was another still form of a brother. Chopper could not make out whom it was but knew he would soon find out.
He collected the droid digits in their memories too.
Rising to his feet, Chopper briefly considered the life neither his brothers nor he would ever know, one that was beyond the war. It was a fleeting thought, one that both thrilled and terrified him.
They were clones, born in the name of war, trained for battle and bred for a life filled unspeakable horrors. The mud, the bodies, the rot and the evil that made it possible, was his world. It was his life and the only life his brothers would ever know.
Yet, a part of him could not help but secretly wish for something else, something more.
Jester joined his side, his expression dangerously blank and weary.
"It's time to pack it in," Jester said. Chopper gave a nod as he sighed. There were no words to describe what they had been through or how they felt, so none were spoken.
From the corner of Chopper's eye he could see the phantom figure of Gus standing in the mists, watching them in silence. As soon as Chopper caught sight of him, the clone soldier was gone. Only the memory of his cocky smirk and the unspoken message it carried lingered in Chopper's mind.
Unlike them, Gus was free.