"Execute Order 66."
Clone Marshal Commander Bly stood on the surface of Felucia, temporarily stunned.
Surely, there had to be some kind of mistake? Bly followed standard procedure, and immediately sent the order back for verification. He knew all 150 of his contingency orders, but they were just that... contingencies. The order came back as verified.
Feeling like his brain was on auto-pilot, Bly crisply acknowledged the order, as per standard procedure.
He heard the words echoing in his helmet, and realized his second-in-command, Captain Steely, had received the order as well, and followed through procedure, exactly as Bly had. The captain's helmet snapped over, staring at Bly. Steely tensely awaited the signal to fire on their General.
Everything unrolled in surreal slow motion.
It was just a fraction of a second that had passed, but Steely realized Bly was hesitating. The clone captain immediately turned to the troops around him, signaling with crisp hand movements. Steely raised his rifle, aiming dead center into the middle of the unsuspecting Jedi Master's back. The troopers around him did the same. To anyone observing, everything seemed eerily silent. But, within the clones' private world of internal helmet comlinks, Steely was rapidly barking out orders. He ensured there was no misunderstanding about the target. Steely paused just a micro-second to shoot a glare at Bly.
The clone commander chose to ignore him, his attention completely focused on their General. Aayla was in mid-step, rising from her morning meditations. She froze. Bly expected her to now do something spectacularly Jedi. She would leap out of the path of danger, disarming her attackers with the wave of her hand. Come on, General. Fight
In the three years that they had worked so closely together, Bly had seen his General do some amazing things.
Ayala had stopped to watch an unusual tropical bird take flight. She was graceful. Beautiful. At peace. And, totally ignorant of the troops about to shoot her in the back.
Why aren't you sensing what's going on? Fierfek! What's wrong with your Jedi radar today?
Bly's adrenaline-flooded body took in the bird, the rifles, Steely, and Aayla all at once.
Orders were orders, they had to obeyed at all times. The Republic Army is the backbone upon which the Republic stands. Or, at least that's the shab they taught us at Kamino. More like the refresher upon which the entire Republic- OK, Bly, focus!
Bly's brain commanded his hands to raise his rifle, just like Steely. But, as much as he knew he should follow the order to shoot his General, something held him back.
Fek! Why can't I do this? It's an order from the chancellor. All orders must be obeyed.
But, it's... the General.
The clone commander felt an immediate conflict rising up within him. Bly saw Steely's fist come down, giving the signal to commence firing. He heard Steely's harsh voice inside his helmet, echoing the same order. And, in one, life-changing moment, he knew what he had to do.
As the adrenaline fueled his body, and blood pounded in his ears, Bly pushed off with his legs. He threw himself sideways in front of all the upraised weapons, just as Aayla sensed danger.
Oh, now she senses danger. Great timing, General,Bly thought wryly just as he saw the bright flashes of the firing rifles. So, this is what tinnies' see right before we waste them,Bly's thought as his body fell directly into the path of the firing clones.
Aayla spun around, her eyes growing wide as she took in the sight of her own men firing upon her. How many times had they each saved each other's lives, and now they were firing upon her?
And, then, seemingly out of nowhere, Bly flew in front of her. He spread his body as wide as he could, to ensure no shots hit Aayla. Aayla watched in horror as Bly's plan to be a human shield worked all too well. The volley of rifle fire struck Bly. His body jerked as each of the shots hit him.
A cry escaped her lips as she saw him get hit - four shots in total - one after another-in quick succession. Her highly attuned sense of smell detected burnt plastic alloy, followed by the unmistakable smell of burnt human flesh.
Bly gasped in pain and shock as the close-range shots penetrated his armor- striking skin and bone underneath. Oh, shab! My arm- it's burning! General! I can't breathe! Aayla! Help! I can't... Bly crashed down, sending up a little cloud of dusty red sand from the force of his fall. He made a single weak gasping sound, and then lay completely still.
Black smoke was rising off his armor in several places, providing a stark contrast to the red sand surrounding his still figure. For a moment, there was complete, stunned silence. Everyone stared at the fallen, crumpled figure, paralyzed for a moment into inaction. Then, their accusing glances stared at each other. It was as if they were trying to comprehend whose fault it was that their Commander was now in this sorry state.
Steely was the first to recover. He raised his rifle again. Although Aayla heard no sound, she was sure he was shouting at full volume into the helmet coms. Steely always was overly loud when overwhelmed. The troopers around him raised their rifles in one smooth synchronized motion.
Aayla shifted her attention from Bly to the troopers. She closed her eyes and gracefully raised one hand, palm stretched outward.
"Fierfek," muttered one of the clones, "a pissed off Jedi..."
Aayla breathed in, gathering the living force in to her chest. Before the troopers could fire the second shot, Aayla breathed back out the living force with a force push of great power. Steely and the troopers went soaring backwards into a nearby rock face. They clattered into the rock wall, their armor making an odd thwacking sound as it hit the rock.
Aayla couldn't hear their cries of pain because they were all still on internal coms, but she felt the ripple through the force. They clattered down the rock face and fell down into the dirt, and lay there unmoving. Aayla was sure some of them were still alive, but none of them made the slightest effort to rise from the dirt, or come after her again. She could hear other troopers running toward them at the commotion. Aayla turned her attention back to Bly. She knelt down next to him.
Bly was completely unresponsive. Aayla felt her insides seize with fear. She popped the seal on his helmet and tugged it off. His eyes were closed, and his skin tone was ashen.
She pulled one of his eyelids open, and leaned down by his ear.
She looked up quickly to check the location of the other troopers. They were all still at the rock face, administering aid and trying to figure out just how their brothers had all managed to collide with the wall.
Using her most authoritative Jedi General voice, Aayla said: "Commander Bly, report!"
Bly's eye flickered. He moved one hand slightly, as if reaching for her. Then, the hand stilled again, as if even that effort was too much. Aayla breathed a sigh of relief.
"It's OK, Commander," Aayla said, putting her arms under Bly and lifting him up. Bly groaned as she moved him.
"I know you're in pain. Stay with me!" Aayla pleaded, as she took off running with Bly in her arms.
She channeled her force senses to try to keep track of who was where around them. Everyone was temporarily distracted by the bizarre 'accident' at the rock face. Aayla ran for the temporary hanger holding the Republic ships.
She put Bly down for a moment, and with much haste, expelled a pilot from the nearest ship. The pilot went crashing headfirst into a support post and lay still. Aayla hoped he was just injured, and not dead. This was quickly turning out to be a tragic, messy, bloody day, and she still had no idea why her troops had turned on her. She could think of no reason why clones would be shooting at Jedi. But, she didn't have any time to spare worrying about that now, nor to worry about the fate of the unfortunate pilot. She gathered Bly back up again and charged full-speed into the ship.
There was no time to secure Bly into the medbay, so she just had to deposit him back down on the floor again.
"Sorry!" she murmured, feeling like she was hauling him around like a piece of cargo. Bly just moaned, almost too faintly to be heard, when she dropped him to the floor of the cockpit. She gave him a quick, regretful glance and leapt into the pilot's chair.
It wasn't until she was almost in hyperspace that she saw the first signs of pursuit. By then, it was too late to offer her any serious challenge. She punched in hyperspace coordinates, and they disappeared off the scopes of their pursuers. They were safely away, and for now, out of reach of those that sought to harm them.
Aayla breathed a quick sigh of relief. She immediately turned her attention back to Bly. He lay unmoving, on the floor, awkwardly, in the same position in which she'd left him. He'd made no attempt to move himself into a more comfortable position. It looked horribly uncomfortable, especially considering his injuries. Aayla's whole system went cold, as she approached Bly. Was she too late? Was Bly already dead?
With a feeling of impending dread, knelt down next to Bly's still form. She feared he'd passed away in those precious few minutes it had taken to escape from Felucia. She rested a hand up against his neck, extending her force senses at the same time.
She almost fainted with relief when she felt a small thready pulse. His breathing was faint, but labored, at the same time. She could feel that Bly was still clinging to life. Aayla gave a quick sigh of relief that he still lived.
She gathered his battered form up as gently as she could, and rushed him back to the ship's med bay. As she carried him, he lay limply in her arms. He seemed to be randomly drifting in and out of consciousness. He'd snap into consciousness, and, just as quickly, pass out again. Bly didn't move or react at all when she deposited him down on the bed in the medbay. Aayla set about quickly removing Bly's smoke-stained, yellow ARC armor.
Aayla had patched up injured clones before, and was adept at removing the gription plates. She quickly and neatly stacked Bly's armor on the floor, and then set about removing his bodysuit. Because Bly had been shot multiple times, the bodysuit was damaged in many areas. She was grateful the bodysuit came apart in sections, as it made it easier to remove it around his injured areas. Aayla shuddered as she remembered the shots hitting him. She had to push the memory to the back of her mind, so she could focus on the task at hand.
Bly had wounds to the lower chest, upper thigh, shoulder and arm. She decided to just strip him completely down. She needed to get at all of these wounds quickly. She had difficulties removing the armor and around his right shoulder and arm. Portions of the armor and boydsuit had melded together, superheated by two rifle shots that struck in too close proximity to each other. The bodysuit had then fused in to his skin from the heat of the blasts. The skin around these areas was completely burnt. This would explain the smell of burnt flesh Aayla had detected immediately after Bly had been shot. His lower arm was worse off than his shoulder. It was difficult for Aayla to tell which areas were blackened flesh, and which areas were part of the black bodysuit. The entire area just looked blackened and charred, and the bodysuit was completely fused to the burnt skin.
Aayla grabbed a pair of forceps, and tried carefully removing the scorched pieces of the bodysuit, bit by bit. No good. It was completely stuck to the skin. She felt something rip, and cringed at the sensation. Part of Aayla recoiled from injuring Bly him any further. But, the disciplined Jedi side of her knew she would do whatever she needed to in order to save his life. These pieces couldn't stay fused into his skin or infection would surely kill him. Detaching herself from her emotions, she picked up a different tool from the medkit and tried once again to get remove the fused material from his arm. No good. She readjusted her grip to a different angle and pulled with more force. Again she felt something rip, and she wasn't sure if it was skin, or a piece of blackened fabric from the bodysuit.
"Bly?" she said, wondering if he had just drifted back to consciousness.
Bly opened his eyes, blinking rapidly, trying to focus on his surroundings. He turned his head slightly and focused on Aayla.
"Are you -" he rasped out, then was hit with a coughing fit. He gestured weakly with his uninjured hand. Aayla looked puzzled for a moment, and then understood he needed water. She fumbled around, opening cabinets in the medbay. She felt inadequate, hearing Bly cough, and feeling she wasn't responding fast enough. He coughed up something red, which at first she thought was blood. But, then she realized he must have inhaled some of the red Felucian sand.
She grabbed a pouch of water, shoved a straw into it, and held the water up to his lips.
Bly coughed up more bits of sand, then grabbed the water with his good hand. His hand was shaking. She guided his hand to his mouth. He took several long sips, and finally his coughing eased.
Aayla grabbed a small cloth and wiped his face clean of water and bits of coughed up sand. Bly settled tiredly back against the pillow. Aayla felt relieved he'd stopped coughing. She looked for a place to set down the water, in the cramped med bay. Who designed these spaces anyway? She shoved the water pouch into a nook. Bly's eyes tracked her movements.
"You - OK?" Bly rasped out, his voice barely more than a whisper.
Aayla barked out a laugh, then covered her mouth, knowing she must sound hysterical. But, she couldn't help it. The emotions of the day were catching up with her.
"Am I OK?" she asked, placing two gentle hands on either side of his face.
He was looking into her eyes, his brown eyes wide with concern. He reached his good hand up to briefly grasp one of her hands.
"Yes, I'm OK," she finally answered, realizing he was waiting for an answer, "not a scratch on me... Thanks to you."
"That's... good," he rasped out so quietly and hoarsely that Aayla could barely hear him. He gave her a small smile that was both sad, and peaceful, at the same time, and his eyelids fluttered closed. She could feel his life force growing weaker and weaker. His features suddenly went slack.
The hand gripping hers let go, and fell limply by his side.
"No!" she said in alarm, "no!" She gripped his hand with desperation, "You can't go!" She squeezed his hand, trying to get a response from him, but his hand remained limp and unresponsive, "No!"
Emotions overwhelmed Aayla. There were things she needed to say to Bly, and she'd never taken the time to say them. Aayla was hit with deep, stabbing emotional pain.
Everything hit Aayla all at once- all the pain, chaos and death she'd been sensing from her fellow Jedi over the past hour. The image of her own troops firing upon her... (She still didn't know why.) The sight of smoke rising off of Bly's armor as he fell into the red sand of Felucia... And, now, Bly was gone.
She began to cry; huge wracking sobs, and buried her face against his bare chest. He still felt so warm and solid. What would it have been like to be held in those arms? Just once? She would never know.
She looked up at his face once more, and finally allowed herself to do what she had wanted to do for a long time. What she had been denying herself for so long...
She leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips. So gently. So tenderly...
His lips still felt so warm, pliant and supple. So many regrets...
A gentle sigh escaped her lips.
"Bly," she said, murmuring his name, sorrow evident in her tone.
"Aayla," he said, so softly, she thought at first it was her imagination.
She continued to kiss him, grief driving her actions.
But, when she felt the kiss unmistakably being returned, with just the tiniest bit of tongue, she realized that her Commander was not as dead as she first thought.
"Bly?" she said, pulling back and staring down at him in shock, then stated the obvious, "you're not dead?"
He cracked one eye open, and rasped out hoarsely: "Better check... to be sure..."
He closed his eyes, and tilted his head at just the right angle to receive another kiss, lips puckered slightly. Aayla jumped back, and began frantically grabbing more medical supplies out of the cabinet.
"Later!" Aayla went into a very un-Jedilike panic mode, "We have much to talk about! But, first, I must see to your injuries!"
Bly sighed heavily.
"Talk?" he rasped out, his voice still hoarse and weak.
Aayla ignored him, as she quickly picked up some supplies she'd let drop to the floor when she thought he was dead. Aayla sterilized a tool, and once again tried to gently pry away the heat-blasted material that had fused into the burnt flesh on his arm.
He hissed in pain, his whole body tensing up.
"Sorry!" Aayla said, her eyes flashing to his face, "but, you have all this plastoid and fabric melted into your skin. If it stays there, it will get infected. I'm going to try again... " She readjusted her grip on the tool, and once again tried to pry off the fused material from his arm. She heard a rip, and Bly bellowed in pain. "Sorry!" she shouted out. She grabbed a painkiller from the medkit, and injected him in the neck.
He felt Aayla try once again to pull the fused armor off of his skin. Bly squeezed his eyes shut, taking a shuddering breath as he tried to deal with the pain without going mad. He ran through in his head everything he'd been taught in his training about managing pain. Finally feeling he had a handle on it, he opened his eyes again. He looked up at Aayla. She was looking at him with tears in her eyes.
She stared down at his arm, shaking her head, "We need to get you to a med center, Commander Bly. You need immediate surgery on this arm."
"No!" Bly shouted, struggling to rise.
Aayla pushed him back down with a firm hand against his upper chest, "Commander! Hold still! I'll straighten out whatever's going on, and then we'll rendezvous with the nearest Republic cruiser."
Bly was agitated as he tried to rise again, pushing hard against the hand restraining him. He struggled to speak, pushing out the words in harsh gasping breaths, "No! - Aayla! - Too - dangerous!"
Hearing Bly say her first name did strange things to her. Aayla ignored those feelings, and focused back on what Bly was trying to say to her. She tried to push him back down into the bed again. He was incredibly strong, considering how badly injured he was.
His eyes bored into hers, "Aayla! - Listen!" He grabbed on to her, pulling her down close to his face. He wanted to make sure she heard every word. He struggled to get the words out: "You - remove it. - Or, - leave it. - Can't go - anywhere. - Order - 66."