More Than Just a Clone
End Part Three
The Nulls thundered up the ramp into the ship, meeting up with Skirata and Doc. The older men spent their time in the station setting charges at strategic points.
Kal nodded and patted the remote timer for the dets on his belt. "All set. "
"Go Ordo," Kom'rk said, even as he was heading up to the cockpit.
A'den unceremoniously dumped Slate onto the floor of the shuttle. The Imperial officer cried out in pain from the harsh treatment.
Ordo spun around from where he was sitting in the pilot's seat. "What is that?"
Mereel slid into the co-pilot's seat and Jaing took over navigation and weapons.
"Get us out of here, Ordo," Kal ordered, "we're hot."
The lead Null spun back around and they immediately took off even as blaster shots started pinging off the hull. Kal calmly pressed the timer on his belt and glanced out the side windows toward the space station. Controlled explosions blew out at key points throughout the structure, crippling key systems. Kal nodded with satisfaction. He turned his attention back to the Imperial officer on the floor, frowning fiercely.
The three Nulls up in the cockpit were working together seamlessly, efficiently trading numbers and coordinates with the quiet, calm precision of those who'd trained together since birth.
"Getting ready to jump-" said Ordo.
"Fek! We've got a tail. Venator-class star destroyer," Jaing announced. "Dropped out of hyperspace and immediately started following us."
"Vader," Slate muttered weakly from his spot on the floor.
A'den was the only one near enough to hear him. He repeated it to the group. "Our new friend said that's Vader ship."
"They must be tracking us because of him," Jaing said, stabbing a finger toward Slate. "Bringing our shields to maximum."
"Who is he?" Kal demanded.
"The Jedi's pet Imp," Jaing accused.
"She wouldn't leave without him," A'den quickly explained.
"We have to get rid of him," Jaing said. "They're firing! Taking evasive manuevers."
"Fek! Dump him!" Mereel growled back, "before he gets us killed!" The ship dove sharply.
"We can't go to hyperspace while they're on our tail, buir," Ordo said, "it'll bring them straight to Mandalore."
"We'll take care of him," Kom'rk said. "A'den give me a hand." He reached down and grabbed on to Slate.
"Release him," Aayla said, pulling him free from their grasp.
Slate moaned from all the tugging and pulling.
Aayla knelt down next to Slate. She pulled off his helmet. He looked up at her and met her eyes.
She turned to Kal. "He protected me. If he hadn't, the others… they would've…" She didn't complete her sentence.
Bly scowled fiercely. It was his job to protect her. He hadn't gone on the mission. Someone else took his place. Had he now been replaced by another clone?
"We have to dump him!" Kom'rk said, as the first blast of fire got through and shook the ship.
"Shields are holding," Jaing announced, "but we can't take too many more hits like that. What's the hold up? Get rid of him!"
"No!" Aayla said, lifting her hand to use the Force to freeze their actions.
"Aayla," Bly said harshly. "Don't interfere. He's not worth it, whoever he is. That's Vader."
What was wrong with her? What had they done to her aboard that station?
The ship continued to dive and weave wildly, avoiding shots from the star destroyer.
"Don't think they're actually trying to destroy us," Kom'rk tossed back from the cockpit, "I think they might be trying to capture us. It appears they might want our Jedi."
"All the more reason to get out of here before we all end up captives on that space station!" Kom'rk growled.
A'den and Kom'rk grabbed Slate again and headed toward the airlock. Slate gasped from the pain of being handled so roughly. Kal and the Doc both looked torn on the issue, but had the look of men who were used to doing what was necessary to protect those they loved.
"My... suit," Slate gasped out.
"What's he saying?" A'den asked, scowling down at Slate.
Kom'rk shrugged. "Something about his suit."
"What is wrong with you?" Aayla said. "Have you forgotten you are all brothers?"
"Aayla," Bly said.
"No, Bly, you listen," the Jedi said defiantly, refusing to be quiet.
"He is a clone like you. All of you, look at him." They'd reached the airlock. A'den and Kom'rk ignored her and dumped Slate between the double doors of the airlock.
Slate cried out as he was dropped.
"My... suit," he gasped out one last time.
"Still going on about his suit," A'den said.
Kom'rk shrugged and closed the door, locking it. He started the decompression sequence. Aayla continued to speak urgently to them as they worked. "What if he doesn't want to be part of the Empire? How do the troopers trapped on the other side get out? An airlock?"
A'den's hand hesitated above the green button to launch Slate into space. Kom'rk reached over to do it for him.
"From now on, you kill every brother trapped by Order 66? How many did you kill today? You proud of yourself?" Aayla challenged.
"Gah," Kom'rk banging his head against the airlock. "I hate having to think about shab like this."
"The suit... the tracker is in the suit," A'den realized. "He's wearing a Phase III suit. We saw the prototype."
Gil rushed over. "Get him out of there."
Kal nodded in approval. "We can dump the suit."
A'den and Kom'rk exchanged a look. "You're not thinking of keeping him, buir?"
"What you're thinking, do it now!" Jaing yelled back as the ship shook from another hit. "They're getting closer!"
Kom'rk quickly undid the door, and the two Nulls grabbed the injured officers by his arms. They hauled him out and dumped him into an area where they'd have the most room to strip him down. There was little room on the crowded ship, but it was the best they could do.
Slate groaned as he was dumped to the deck of the ship, his eyes half-open as he watched all of them. He was too weak to protest.
Bly and Doc knelt down on Slate's other side and between the four clones they had the unconscious officer peeled out of his armor in seconds. She stayed out of the way, knowing that despite her recent practice at stripping Bly, they could complete the move more efficiently than she ever could.
"Get it out the airlock," Mereel shouted, "and then we'll jump from sub-light to hyperdrive. They won't be able to track us anymore." His emphasis on the word 'it' clearly implied he would rather be dumping the offending enemy officer rather than simply his armor.
Aayla glanced out the viewscreen and watched as the suit ejected into space. She shuddered, thinking how close Slate had come to meeting the same fate.
"We're clear," Mereel reported, "Go Ordo!"
With a whining pull of the small ship's powerful engines, the Aay'han took off and jumped to hyperspace.
"Help me get him up onto the medbunk," Doc said to A'den and Kom'rk. Even only half-conscious, Slate groaned in pain as he was moved.
He started to stir, twisting and struggling uncomfortably, as Doc started to examine his blaster wounds, prodding as his chest, thighs, arms, and a particularly severe blast on one ankle. "Someone needs to hold him down." A'den pinned the struggling clone down with one arm across his chest. Gil looked back at the rest of the Nulls. "Which of you boys shot him?"
They all raised their hands, and A'den raised the hand that he wasn't using to pin Slate.
Bly raised both hands. "Finally someone who has been shot more times than me," he said, earning him a harsh glare from Aayla.
Gil shook his head. "Nice work," he said to the Nulls and Bly. "I've seen red gourd cheese with less holes in it."
Kal looked at his boys with a guarded expression. It was difficult to tell whether he was proud, or exasperated with his six adopted sons. "They never miss," he conceded. He came over and stood next to the doctor, studying the injured clone critically. Slate regarded Skirata with a mixture of anger and fear.
"Sergeant... Kal," he murmured.
Kal shook his head, rubbing his eyes. He turned away from the Imperial officer. "This isn't good. We can't take him back with us. Much too dangerous. For all we know, he planned all of this to infiltrate us."
Aayla blew out a breath in exasperation. "How could he plan this?" She gestured at all of his wounds. "He wasn't even there when the attack came. It is simply by chance you didn't manage to kill him and I was able to convince you to take him along. There was no plan. He is not here by choice."
"Then, why bring him?" Bly said sharply, his frustration clear in his voice.
"Because he deserves a second chance. Like you got one, Bly. Like I did. He deserves something more after Order 66."
Slate was having difficulties breathing, even with the mask on. His breath was coming in short gasps. He looked back and forth between Aayla, Bly, Kal and Gil, tracking their conversation with wide eyes.
"Can this conversation wait?" Gil said sharply, his hands a flurry of activity as he moved over Slate, trying to stabilize the critically injured trooper.
"Will he live?" Kal asked, ignoring Slate and speaking directly to Gil. Maybe the problem would resolve itself.
"Kal," Gil said, knowing what he was thinking, his voice was low as he spoke to Kal. "The Jedi is right, Kal. He might have been working for the Empire, but look at him."
Kal cursed under his breath. Those eyes. They were the same frightened eyes he'd looked into everytime he comforted one of his sons. When Ordo was afraid of the lightning at Kamino, he came to Kal with exactly that expression.
"Not sure," Gil said, shaking his head, "Not with your boys' handiwork. Add the ARC's shooting skills in and he's a mess." He pointed to Slate's ankle. "Not sure which of them targeted him here, but the bones here are actually fused."
Kal winced in sympathy. He had a shattered ankle which never healed.
"That was me," Bly volunteered. "I got in one of the chest shots, too."
"Nice shooting, ARCie," Kom'rk came closer to admire the shot and pointed to the blast wound, "however, for maximum effectiveness, you could've tried shooting him with pattern delta A4-"
"Stop!" Aayla insisted.
Bly frowned. He thought this was an excellent topic of conversation. When had Aayla gotten so prickly? Were they having their second fight? Over a fekkin' Imperial?
Kom'rk nodded to him to put his helmet back on and they resumed their conversation over closed circuit, heading over to sit down together side-by-side.
Back in the medbay, Gil and Kal continued to exam Slate.
"We have the bacta tank now, so he has a chance," Gil said. "But, no guarantees."
"Seems a waste of bacta," Kom'rk said to Bly over closed comm.
"Fek yeah," Bly agreed, feeling that he was finally bonding with the Nulls, although it seemed to be at the expense of his relationship with Aayla. He shot a glance back toward the medbay following the conversation between Kal and the doctor.
"Can you give him something for the pain?" Kal asked.
"Not much," Gil said, preparing a hypo, "he's already so weak. He can't handle much in his condition."
Slate reared back from the hypo, resisting the pressure at his neck.
"I can help," Aayla said, placing a hand on Slate's brow, careful to stay out of the doctor's way.
"She sure likes to fuss over that Imp," Jaing pointed out, watching the activities using the 360 view in his helmet, even as he co-piloted the ship.
Bly hissed under his breath, but didn't comment.
"Uh, Jaing, maybe we should change the topic?" Mereel pointed out tactfully, having more experience with women than any of his brothers. "Let's go back to talking about shooting him, alright?"
But, Bly wasn't paying attention to either of them. He continued to watch the events unfolding in medbay.
"Slate, it's me, General Secura. You're going to be alright. We're trying to help you. You're badly injured."
"Gen…eral," Slate gasped out, he stopped struggling against the doctor and A'den, and struggled to focus on Aayla. "Are… you… alright?"
"Yes, I'm unharmed," she gently brushed his sweat-strained brow. "Try to relax. We'll take care of you."
"Yeah, we'll take care of him… still thinking the airlock is the best option," Prudii grumbled, settling in next to Kom'rk. He elbowed Bly sitting next to him on the narrow bench.
Bly knew the Null wanted him to comment. Agree with his assessment. Possibly explain Aayla's actions. But, he did not want to discuss it. His helmet was still on, masking his emotions. He tried to remain calm as his wife fussed over this other clone. He watched them intently, ignoring Jaing's detailed recounting of other hapless folk he'd tossed out airlocks.
He turned away and went up to the cockpit to watch their progress homeward with Jaing and Mereel.
"You alright, vod?" Jaing asked, reaching up to pull down a jumpseat.
Bly accepted the seat with a nod of thanks and sank down. He noticed Jaing didn't call him 'ARCie' and he was thankful for the small mercy.
He nodded his head toward the back cabin, but didn't say anything.
He didn't have to, though. Brothers tended to always get other brothers.
"What's up with the Jedi bringing that Imperial aboard?" Mereel grumbled.
Jaing leaned back in his seat until his back gave a satisfying pop. "I don't know. I kind of get it. I think your wife has a point."
The other two clones looked at the Null in surprise. "You do?"
Jaing nodded. "She might be a Jedi, but every once in a while she actually says something worthwhile. Maybe we should be thinking about rescuing other brothers. We've been so concerned about protecting our own shebs. We've got millions of vode out there who didn't get out."
"We can't possibly rescue them all!" Mereel objected. He shook his head irritably. "What would we do with them anyway?"
Bly took his helmet off, and looked at Jaing considering his words. He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "We could fight."
"Fight?" Mereel scoffed, "take on an Empire?" He turned his attention back to the stars streaking by. "It's suicide."
Jaing looked at Bly. "Clones. Taking on the Emperor?" He was trying the words out. He also slid his helmet off and looked out the viewport. "Mereel's right. It would mean a death sentence for all of us."
"There are millions of clones," Bly said. "You said so yourself."
"Yes," Mereel argued, "and we'd be fighting them."
"Not if they were fighting for us," the former clone commander said.
"What are you boys talking up here?" Kal said, joining them in the cockpit.
"Bly thinks we can take on the Empire by recruiting clones. Tell him it can't be done, buir," Mereel said. "There's no way. We hide and ride this thing out."
Kal shook his head sadly. "There is no riding this out, Mer'ika. We can hide, but the Empire will find us eventually."
"You agree with him?" Mereel asked, incredulously.
Kal put a hand on Bly's shoulder. "It bears discussion. There's nothing I want more than to protect you boys, but…" he shook his head, looking troubled.
"Guess it means we're keeping the Imperial. Congratulations, Bly. Enjoy," Mereel said, shaking his head. He looked at Kal, troubled. "What if the Imp double-crosses us?"
"Gil isn't even sure if he's going to live. If there are any signs of trouble, I will shoot him myself, agreed?
"Fair enough, although I wouldn't mind shooting him again," Mereel said with a satisfied shrug.
"I'll help," Bly chimed in.
Bly stayed in the cockpit for the rest of the flight and Aayla stayed back in the back by the medbay bunk, holding Slate's hand. He briefly stirred a few times, clinging to her hand.
They arrived back on Mandalore without incident and unloaded the Aay'han ship methodically. They were all tired and hungry. Slate was offloaded first and carried to the bacta tank. Bly followed and watched without comment as the injured clone was stripped out of his boxers and placed naked into the tank.
What was it about this particular clone? Why did he have a hold over her?
Gil checked the vitals on the side of the tank. "His vitals aren't good," the doctor said, shaking his head, frowning. "He might not make it. I'm not sure if pulling him out to do surgery will help him or kill him."
Aayla put a hand toward the tank. The doctor put a restraining hand on her chest. "Go and rest. I'll bring Jusik in and see if there is anything he can do. But, it may simply be a question of time. If he lives until morning, maybe he has a chance. He's been shot so many times, his system might just shut down." He pushed her toward the door. "Go. Get some rest. There is nothing more you can do."
Gil nodded toward Bly.
Bly gripped his wife by the arm. "Come on. The doctor is right, you need rest."
"I'm fine, I need to-"
Bly pulled her toward the door.
"Bly!" she whirled on him angrily.
Fek. He couldn't believe they were fighting over another man. What was this now? Their third fight? He hated this Slate already. He wouldn't be sorry if he didn't make it. He released her, not sure how to handle the situation. He looked toward Gil for guidance.
"There is nothing you can do here," he shooed her toward the exit, "go, spend time with your husband." He gave her a meaningful look. He pulled her aside and spoke to her out of Bly's earshot. He strained to hear what they were saying. Whatever it was, it had an impression on the Jedi because she nodded and walked immediately toward Bly.
"Let's go," she said, tugging on his hand, and walking with him toward the corridor.
Bly glanced back over his shoulder toward Gil. The doctor gave him an innocent smile.
Gah. So confused.
They walked on in silence toward their quarters.
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A/N: Been a very busy couple of weeks, but I've been keeping up with my updates by writing late at night and early in the morning. A reminder that I'll be taking a break from writing in the early part of August. Enjoy!