Said the Joker to the Thief
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief."
'All Along the Watchtower' – Bob Dylan
There was the soft sound of a blaster being poised to fire.
Rex did not move, though the barrel was near enough to almost feel. The cold metal that would burn hot in a moment. It seemed to breathe on the back of his neck.
"You know better than to hesitate," he said.
It was a simple enough mission, and a successful one, as far as it could be.
Though it was a rumor, it was still enough to warrant investigation. The Republic could ill afford the establishment of a Separatist supply depot so close to their space. General Skywalker was on Coruscant. Responsibility fell to Commander Tano to investigate.
She took a small team. The rest of the 501st would be on its way to Coruscant to meet with the General. She would report back her findings. She took Rex as a matter of course. Echo and Fives, now veterans, were also selected. Four shinies, who showed some promise of leadership skills. A chance to prove themselves in the field, and to see the more experienced soldiers on a mission.
What they found was a puzzle; a deep gorge, surrounded by humid green jungle, partially under construction. It appeared to have been recently worked on, even more recently abandoned, and abandoned quickly.
They walked through the dark halls with trepidation, wondering if there were traps. They found none; only signs of a scramble to leave. Storage rooms that would have been cleared out were not properly emptied. A scattering of parts-stripped vulture droids and a pair of small transports rested silently on a landing platform beneath a wide outcropping of gray limestone.
"Why would they abandon a place they just started building? Discovery? What could have changed?" Ahsoka had asked.
"Don't know," Rex had replied. "Something's off. I've got a bad feeling about this."
Reporting back, they updated Admiral Yularen, who in turn sent a message on to Coruscant. They stayed two days, cataloguing what supplies were left, investigating the area on the chance someone had not fled the planet, and trying to recover the poorly erased files on the depot's computers. It gave them no answers as to why they had left. It was a home of ghosts.
They had brought their own transport from their landing site to the remains of the depot, and were preparing to depart when the order came.
Rex received it first.
He stood for a moment, uncertain. He straightened, hand tightening on the blaster at his hip. Commander Tano was slinging a heavy backpack over her shoulder, smiling and laughing at something one of the new men was saying.
The others received it second.
There was a pause across the landing bay, men stopping to listen. The Commander also stopped, her smile fading as she looked in puzzlement at her team, seemingly frozen where they stood.
There was the metallic rattle of a blaster being picked up, then another. She looked to Rex, eyes wide, inquiring.
His voice rang out as he began to move, slowly, too slowly. The words came thoughtlessly. "Get down!"
The whine of a blaster came; a sudden shot flew. The Commander, taken aback, was struck. She spun, fell. Datapads scattered around her, tossed out of the backpack.
Troopers converged on the body of the Commander. Rex knelt, turned her over. Her shoulder was scorched, a disturbingly meaty smell burned off her flesh. She twisted in pain, gasped, opened sky-colored eyes long enough to look up at the men crowding around her. One was worried. Two were uncertain, awkward, exchanging glances. Four held blasters aimed at her. Why? She winced, tried to reach for her lightsaber, then passed out as the too-charred flesh stretched and cracked.
"She's not dead, sir," a voice came. "Did you want to finish it?"
Nauseated, Rex staggered to his feet and abruptly punched the man in the face, ripping the blaster out of his hands as he tripped backward. Rex froze, panting, hands twisting around the cold durasteel in his hands, staring down at the shiny on the ground, who was looking up at him in shock.
It was long enough for the others to react.
Not obeying orders. The Jedi were traitors. Those who sided with them were traitors. Was a brother different? Doesn't make sense. What to do? No precedent. Traitors must be put down. Orders. Just orders. Orders were comfortable.
Three blasters were raised by inexperienced hands.
Two veterans moved forward. It was short work. Quick moments, a strike, a twist, a pull, a punch. Fast blows to the head dropped their younger brothers to the ground.
Three men stood amid the fallen, staring at each other in disbelief.
Echo spoke first. "What do we do now, sir?" His voice was tinged with nerves.
They looked at the bodies scattered around them and began to feel fear.
"Lock them in one of the storage rooms. It won't hold them too long. They can take one of the Seps' ships." Rex's voice was, for the first time Echo and Fives had ever heard it, unsteady.
They obeyed orders.
"You know better than to hesitate," he said.
The blaster hovered. The voice was fearful. "It's the only way out of this," Fives said, hand steady but voice not. "Move, Captain. Please."
Rex's head turned, slowly, to the side, looking down the barrel of the blaster. He neither stood nor moved from his seat.
Commander Tano lay on the bed beside him. Only three things gave evidence she still lived. The quiet beeping of the medical readout beside her. The slight rise and fall of the white sheet pulled up over her chest. The three gauntleted fingers of the Captain that she clutched in her hand.
"You won't kill the Commander in cold blood."
He'd gotten them into this mess. Ahsoka. He struck a brother to the ground. So had they all, now. His voice turned bitter. "So now it's 'Commander Tano' again."
There was no motion in the moment -only a hardening of will.
Fives suddenly remembered why Rex was Captain. He didn't dare break eye contact. He did step backward, slightly away, resisting the urge to apologize. He didn't want to see her dead either. But what else could he do? There were orders. They might all die or be branded as traitors because of it. Where else could they go? What else could they do? They belonged with the Republic fleet. Home. Family. Brothers. Superiors had given orders. There had to be a reason. Too confusing. There had to be a reason. There was no disobedience. Someone had to save the three of them, if it wasn't too late already.
The impasse was broken by the sound of the medbay doors. Echo's voice came through. "I've set coordinates -" He stopped, then, uneasily, "Captain? Fives?"
"What do your regulation manuals say about what happens to traitors, Echo?" Fives asked, tensing, forcing himself to calm, then tensing again. His fingers flexed around the trigger.
Echo looked between them. Fives was battling panic. The Captain looked as though he would break him in half if given a moment of opportunity. The Commander lay still.
"What do the regs, say, Echo!" Five's voice cracked out into the silence.
"You know what they say," Echo began, unmoving. Too much. It was too much. This order was too much. Orders were meant to protect people. You follow orders, you still may not make it, but your chances go up. You follow orders, you follow regulations, you learn what you need to do, you do it. Regs are for safety. Orders are for protecting. Situation changes, you do the best you can, keep to the spirit of the mission.
He looked at the unconscious Commander. Orders were to keep you and yours alive. Why would this order have been given, and given to all? There had to be a reason. Regs made it black and white. Easy to follow, easy to understand, were absolutes. Could anyone be a friend one moment, and an enemy the next, as determined by a leader so far away? Was it right to follow an order that turned them on each other, when a moment before they were supposed to protect each other? Regs were made to protect lives. The order broke the spirit of the rules. Something was wrong.
"Commander's one of us, Fives." He edged forward, slowly, cautiously. Echo placed a hand on the blaster. He said, not unkindly, "Calm down. Something isn't right about all this. We've been in worse situations. We'll figure it out."
After a long moment, it lowered. Echo pulled it from Fives' grip. Rex let out a breath, eased back onto the stool he sat on. The Commander's breath hitched slightly, a flash of pain crossed her face, then stilled. The three men watched her, then looked away, clouded by a slight feeling of shame.
Echo held the blaster carefully against him. Fives turned, walked to a wall, pushed his back against it and slumped to the floor. "There's gotta be some way out of this," he said. He placed his head in his hands.
They lingered in silence. Rex broke it after a time. "Echo. What's our heading?"
"Coruscant. There's a beacon coming from the Jedi Temple, says to fall back there. I've set a course."
Rex nodded once, turned back to the Commander. "Get that blaster out of here."
"Yes, sir." He looked at it, grip tightening, then at Fives, who was looking at the floor.
There was only a quiet hum around them. The whirr of the engines, the soft beeping of Ahsoka's biosigns screen, the thick breathing of the three men. As Echo turned back towards the bridge, Fives could be heard saying, under his breath, "We are so fucked."
In the distance between the stars, an Empire began to rise.
The little ship was approaching Coruscant.
This fic is the result of listening to the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack entirely too much lately, specifically Gaeta's Lament and the Galactica version of Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower. Quite a few of the lines are alluding to or lifting from these songs.
This will be a multi-part fic, based loosely around music from the Vietnam era, which I think suits the Clone Wars and its aftermath rather well. Updates will probably be intermittent, as I have no particular destination for this fic to go, and I'm still getting the hang of writing SW. ^_^
Of course, I own nothing, including the music.