Chapter 7 – A Strange Man, Relaxed in War

A woman came from the undergrowth, a Rebel doing a sweep for stragglers and enemy forces, not that it mattered anymore. Not that it had ever mattered for Chopper after the Six.

"Raise your hands." She motioned with her blaster.

Slowly he raised one hand and removed his helmet. He never liked the new model and was, as usual, wearing his old Phase 1 issue, though it had been upgraded with new electronics to keep it at command level. Always let the enemy see you as human. He saw her start as she saw his old, silvered scars that covered the side of his head and bisected one side of his face. His not-quite-old face had several tattoos, newer and sharper than the scars, the number 5, 'ECHO' in Aurebesh - a green light saber that seemed to glow dividing them. She gasped as she recognized him as a clone, knew she thought, by the tattoo, that a Jedi had died by his hands.

"Both hands."

Chopper looked at his arm around Rex's shoulders, Rex's hand clenching his wrist lightly, still alive, blood covering the splintered white armor. "I'm afraid not, Ma'am."

She looked at the fallen man and a sudden look of sympathy came over her features. There was no mistaking the look of death. "I'm sorry." Her voice was soft, though the gun didn't waver.

"It's ok. Him and me … we've lived too long anyway." Slowly he shifted. "I'd like to get my canteen, if I may? It's close to the blaster and I'm open to suggestions."

His eyes were mismatched, one pale, almost colorless, and his face didn't have the feral tenseness she thought a clone should have. He seemed as relaxed as though he were sitting in a park watching small birds and flowers; as though he feared nothing: not her, not the weapon, not death itself. She shivered, remembering what she'd been taught about clones, their ferocity, their abilities. But no one had ever mentioned deceit.

"Move slowly," she ordered, and he nodded as he did so. He brought the water to his lips and drank, then dampened the dying man's lips. He noticed she didn't have a canteen and held out his own to her with a questioning look.

She shook her head, though she was thirsty. He set the canteen down with a nod. "Well, don't let yourself get dehydrated." He looked around the forest, green and fresh and new. He smiled at her, she reminded him of someone from long ago, then down to his captain. "It's a good place to die ori'vod. I'll see to everything, Captain."

"Not much left to.." Rex's voice faded and Chopper nodded. No, there wasn't much to see to anymore.

The rebel noticed Rex's kama and the worn armor that hadn't been shiny in her lifetime. "Who is he?"

Chopper shook his head and sighed. "Just another clone. My Captain."

He moved slowly, and she backed away, keeping her distance.

"That's smart, but I'm not going to attack. Not going to go for my blaster or my knife. Or whip that vine around your feet and knock you over." She glanced down to see a thick vine between her feet, the end trailing to where he sat. He moved his hand from around the dead man's shoulder to show her the thick cord of green in his fist. He let it fall to the forest floor. "I've got more important things to do. Bury my brother. Leave this kriffing war we've been fighting for longer than you've been alive."

She obviously didn't trust him, but he hadn't made any attempt to overcome her. She shifted her feet so the vine was no longer a concern and his lips quirked. Her feet had found another bad spot for her to stand. "Where are you going to go?" He listened and heard honest curiosity.

"Don't know. Too soon to think of that." He laughed softy. "My whole life, and I haven't thought of that. Thought I'd die long before." He rose to his knees and put his arms around the body of his companion. "Osik, ori'vod. You weigh more than a bantha." His fingers removed Rex's armor, setting the helmet aside in deference. He fingered through the armor pieces until he found one that pleased him with its heft and shape.

"Find my brothers. I know one, know of another. Maybe." He stood and she scrambled back further, tripping a bit and almost losing her balance as her legs were stopped by a fallen tree. He smiled at her clumsiness. "Always remember what's behind you." Then he turned and, using the greave for a shovel, commenced to dig into the soft soil of the forest.

Still a little off-balance, she sat heavily on the log and lowered the blaster.

"I'll tell you this though." He spoke softly, punctuated with small grunts of effort. "I won't be going back with you to whatever prison hole you'd be taking me to, and the easiest time to escape is when you're on the move." He pushed the dirt aside, shifted a bit and again bit the leg armor into the soil. "I wouldn't want to hurt you, but accidents happen in war. What we intend isn't always what happens." He glanced up at her. "Just letting you know that I'm sorry, but I'll do what I have to."

She sighed softly, knowing he spoke from experience. Her own experience had been the same. "I'm lost." He gave a small chuckle as he continued to dig.

"I figured that. But you aren't too far from your lines. Problem is, you're within our lines." He touched his thumb to his jaw. "At least where our lines are supposed to be." He smiled at her again, letting her have the information, seeing her face take it in. "We came out over here because he thought he saw…" He was quiet and she waited.

"What?"

"Something. Let it be at that." The clone's voice was suddenly hard, and she shivered, finding it more in line with the reputation of their ruthlessness.

Her hands tightened around the blaster for reassurance. He shifted again, the makeshift shovel cutting easily into the dirt. He wasn't digging a grave so much as cutting an oval into the earth. She holstered her blaster and moved to where the body and armor were. The dead clone didn't look ferocious. He looked peaceful . . . content.

She looked at the man cutting the grave. Though their facial features were similar, their lives had been different, and the lines on the dead clone's face were different than the lines on the living man. She picked up a piece of armor. As he dug, she scraped and shifted the soil aside.

When they'd finished, she helped move the dead man into the makeshift grave. "Hmmf. He'is heavy," she grunted. "A lot more than he looks."

"Solid muscle. A higher percentage than born humans. Makes us heavier. Stronger and faster, too." She caught the implied threat, ignored it. The clone fiddled for a moment with the helmet, then set it in the grave. Together they covered him. The clone took care as he moved the cut pieces of vegetation onto the grave. When he was done, she barely recognized the grave as not part of the forest and realized that had been his intention.

Chopper stood and thought for a moment. No sense in letting her know who they had just buried. Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum, alor'ad ori'vod.

She wished she had something to say, but didn't and so was silent. He turned and sighed. "Thanks." Then he moved to the armor and, piece by piece, threw it in different directions into the forest. When he heard one hit water, he threw the remainder in that direction. Chopper reached for his helmet and tapped it onto his head, standing, listening. Then he removed the helmet once again. "Looks like Rebel Alliance won this battle." Well, that had probably been his and Rex's fault. "Your best bet is that way." He pointed and laughed gently at her confused look, then her arched eyebrow and moue of impatience at the dense forest.

"You're not a regular soldier, are you? Admin? Planner? Political?"

Her face told him the answer, but he realized it didn't matter and made a small gesture with his hand. "Follow the trees, see how the buttress roots are ridged? The ridging is north to south. You just stay a little to the right of south, and you'll make it back to an Alliance group at the shield generator you took over the other day. I'm sure you'll hear noise as you get closer." He manipulated his own helmet, and she knew he was removing some chip, then he tossed her the helmet. "A trophy. It will do you proud."

He walked from the small clearing with a heart lighter than it had ever been.


And so we come to the end. I hope you've all enjoyed the story.