Burning Skies, Shattered Worlds

I've seen too much of war.

I began life as a clone of Jango Fett on Kamino, and there I trained along with billions of my brothers. When my training was complete, I was sent off to the Grand Army of the Republic, and I fought across a hundred worlds, watching my brothers die all around me as I killed in turn.

Droids.

Damn clankers feel nothing. They don't scream when they die, and they don't bleed. I hate them. By the thousands they charged us, unfeeling hunks of metal whose only goal for their mindless existence was to kill me and as many of my brothers as they could.

Some say clones are no better than droids, that we're just organic machines built to take orders just like they are. They couldn't be more wrong. We're men, every one of us, and we bleed and scream and die just the same as the rest of the sentient beings in this galaxy. Just because we're all copies of the same man doesn't mean we don't think, don't feel pain, and don't wonder if there's more to life than war.

Theta 988. That's what they called me back during the Clone Wars. To some, that was the only way to distinguish me from billions more just like me, and even then they didn't care. Just a soldier, they thought. Just another blaster, running along after them as they wave their glowing swords and send us in to die.

But not every Jedi was a pompous, arrogant, high-and-mighty wizard; I was proud to fight at Anakin Skywalker's side.

I was.

I don't know what we're even doing here. In the Clone Wars, the enemy was clear; the Separatists and their droid armies wanted to conquer the galaxy and bring everyone under their heel so that they could turn a profit. Fighting for money; if there's a more despicable reason to go to war, I don't know what it is.

Yeah, that's real funny coming from a clone of a bounty hunter, I know, but despite my face, I am not Jango Fett. I've never even seen the man who's ostensibly my father.

I might be a copy, but I'm my own man. I have my own thoughts and my own feelings.

Right now I'm thinking that I'm tired of killing Rebels, and I'm feeling sick.

I'm in a trench on some damn swamp of a world whose name I don't even remember. It's raining, like it always is here, and I'm sitting in the mud, staring into the eyes of a man I've just killed. He stares back at me, the dead man, his face frozen in an eternal grimace of pain and fear.

I wonder what his name is. Did he know why he was here, or was he just following orders, too?

Just following orders. I've done things 'just following orders' that any judge and jury with half a functioning brain between them would send a man to the firing squad for. If no one tells a man to kill but himself, he's a murderer, but if he does it when a man in a uniform tells him to, he's a soldier.

The dead man's blood is running down his chest, mixing with the mud around him to swirl in little spirals through the dirty water. Above our little hole in the earth, the sky rumbles with the bombs our lines are hurling at each other. I can hear screams from the dying even over the deadly thunder, men calling out to the ones they love as the life drains from their bodies to dirty the puddles around us with crimson ribbons.

I look down at the knife in my hand. It still has the dead man's blood on it.

He wasn't even coming after me. He tripped on something and tumbled into my hole in the ground. Before he could even scream, my knife was off my belt and into his chest half a dozen times. He sobbed, as he died. He stared at me while tears mixed with the muddy water on his face and he felt his blood drain away over his fingers and into the mud.

It took him half an hour to die. Half an hour full of pain as he stared at his murderer and silently pleaded with me to finish him off, to at least have the decency to give him a quick death. But I didn't move. I just sat there and watched him suffer his life away as the dirty rain washed over us both.

The propaganda vids they show those new recruits, the ones where the proud men of the Imperial 501st, Lord Vader's Fist, charge across the battlefield shooting at the enemies of the Empire, show Rebels dying by the score. Swift justice to the enemies of the Empire and the New Order, they say.

Is there any justice to watching a man bleed to death in front of you, knowing that you're the one who killed him?

This entire planet stinks of blood and death. I can smell it even through my helmet, washing down through every part of me. I'm never going to be anything but a killer. I've been one my entire life, and I don't know how to do anything else.

The ground shakes as a bomb slams into the earth a few meters away. It explodes, flinging mud in all directions. I sit there and watch the dead man as mud streams into our hole like heavy rain, half-covering him. A big clod of earth hits him in the face, and he slumps over, his dead eyes covered up now.

I can still see his blood leaking into the ground, though.

For twenty years, my hands have been covered in blood.

I was there when Lord Vader led us into the Jedi Temple. I watched as he killed everyone he found there, showing absolutely no mercy to those he would have died to defend the day before.

I saw him cut his way through a crowd of frightened children who were just hiding, crying at the noise as a Sith Lord and his army destroyed their home. He wasn't wearing a helmet then, but Lord Vader's face may as well have been the mask he wears now as he slaughtered them all.

He looked down with unfeeling yellow eyes as the children cried and pleaded, screaming in fear as his burning blade swept through them all.

I shot the ones that didn't die right away. Just following orders.

The dead man in front of me is just a child himself. He can't be more than a teenager still, but he's old enough to die in a hole in the ground on some nameless planet because someone told him to fight and someone else told me to kill him.

He's got something in his hand. I didn't notice it before, but now that he's fallen over, his hand is stretched across the mud, his fingers clenched around a small metal half-sphere.

It's a miniature holoprojector, I realize as I pluck it from his dead fingers. I push the button on the side, and a small hologram of a smiling young woman appears.

"I love you," she says.

I lost track of how many sentients I've killed a long time ago. Hundreds, at least. Maybe thousands.

This one, though…

What is it about this one that makes me want to throw away my rifle and let the shattered earth close over me?

What is it about this one that makes me feel like a murderer and not a soldier?

This dead man had a life. He chose to be here. He chose to fight for what he believed in, otherwise he'd still be back at home with this woman, whoever she is.

I took that life away from him.

This woman will never see him again. She'll never know what happened to him other than that he never came home.

"I love you."

No one has ever said that to me. Ever.

No one ever will.

I look up at the sound of footsteps, and with a yell, another stormtrooper dives into my hole in the ground, just ahead of a wave of shrapnel from another exploding bomb.

He waits for the mud to stop flying into the trench, and then he gets up, his white armor just as smeared with mud and blood and gore as my own. From the energy of his movements, this trooper is one of those new recruits, filled with fire and bloodlust.

He turns to the dead man and chuckles. "Got one!" he says to me. "I just got three over there with a grenade, myself. That makes nine today. What are you up to?"

Something inside me snaps at hearing him say this. Something inside my murderer's soul is enraged at hearing him speak of my victim with so little respect.

Before I can even think, my rifle is up and I'm squeezing the trigger. A dozen, twenty, thirty bolts slam into the other white-armored figure. He screams as he falls, and his own blood trickles over his white armor and down into the mud.

I sit there and listen to the earth fly apart under the bombs, and watch as burning streaks flare across the sky.

A tank rumbles by, shoving the mounds of mud out of the way as it drives inexorably forward into the enemy lines to bring more death, to spill more blood and destroy more lives.

A tidal wave of mud, a tsunami of dark, fluid earth, flows down into my hole in the ground, and I let it. It covers up both of my victims and buries me. I can feel by the weight of it that there are meters and meters of mud piled over me now.

I don't even struggle. I just let my grave embrace me and pull me down into oblivion.

But wait.

The earth is moving. The mud slides away from me, and as my helmet is uncovered the first thing I see is the burning sky and the black death's-head of Lord Vader's helmet.

"On your feet, soldier," he rumbles, his deep voice thundering in my ears.

He reaches down with one black-gloved hand and pulls me upright.

For a long instant, we stare into each other's eyes, twin pairs of dark lenses hiding the men beneath. But I can sense what he's thinking just as surely as he can tell what thoughts whirl beneath my own helmet.

Darth Vader is just as tired of war as I am. He knows that the blood of thousands, millions stains his hands, and he feels like just as much of a murderer as I do.

"The Rebels are retreating," the Dark Lord says. "The fighting is over here."

I say nothing. I can think of nothing to say.

"Return to base, trooper."

This is not the first time I have heard this man speak those words to me.

I have fought at his side in a thousand battles over the last two decades. I fought as a clone trooper when he was Anakin Skywalker, and I fight as a stormtrooper at the side of Darth Vader.

Both of us have killed too many to count, and both of us now want nothing more than an end to all the slaughter, no matter what that end may be.

I wish he'd left me in the ground in my grave where I belong.

He wishes he'd let himself fall into the fires that burned Anakin Skywalker away.

But both of us keep moving on through our walking death, because we don't know what else to do.

As my black-armored commander marches away through the field of blood and dirt and shattered worlds, I pick up my rifle and march along after him.

We've seen too much of war.

-


Author's Note: I'm not sure where this came from. I thought of the title, started writing, and a few hours later, ended up with this. Thoughts?