Top Ten

Commander Cody's Top Ten Reasons Not to Start a Two-Hour Hike at Midnight
1)Everyone is exhausted and half-dead on their feet. In fact the only people who are remotely awake are the Jedi, but even they seem pretty down.
2)There is no caf, so you have no chance of waking up that way.
3)Even though there are two full moons out, there are so many clouds it's impossible to make anything out clearly.
4)Because it's so dark, and you're so tired, you don't see the tree roots sticking out of the ground even when they're right in front of you.
5)So of course you trip over one of these roots, hit your head on a low-lying branch, and start falling.
6)Then you land on the Padawan.
7)The worst part about landing on the Padawan is that she already thinks you're an idiot, mostly for smashing into her the first time you met, and now that you did it again she'll definitely lose any respect she might have had for you before.
8)The second-worst part is that you make a complete fool of yourself in front of the unit, and it was going to be hard enough to make them listen to you earlier but now they're all snickering at you and making snide remarks and there's no way they're gonna stop any time soon.
9)Then, and only then, do the moons decide to come out, and then you realize how pretty Commander Offee looks in the moonlight. Simultaneously you figure out your helmet has come off and that everyone, from the commander to the general to the lieutenant to the rest of the unit, can see you've turned as bright a red as a Sith's lightsaber.
10)And when the whole two hours of stupid jokes, plodding feet, and stumbling are all done and you can lie down and sleep, you're twice as tired and twice as weary as when you started, only now you're wide awake.

Cody gave up on sleep after the first half-hour of tossing and turning in the bunk. Half of the Corps was in the same room as him, a narrow, windowless chamber with bunks built three high right in the wall. The beds, little more than thin mattresses, smelled like sweat, the walkway below was too thin for two men to walk side-by-side, the lights flickered if they were turned on, and both the emergency lights and night lights were broken, plunging the room in complete darkness. Of course, that was the way the barracks usually were on small Temporary Unit Transport Starships, so it wasn't really that much of a surprise to find all these less-than-pleasant conditions there.

In fact, it was actually better in comparison to some TUTS. The whole room could've smelled like something died in there, there might've been rats, the floor might have creaked, and the lights could have not turned on at all. So in a way, things were a lot more agreeable than they could have been. But the fact remained that everyone was very ripe from the hike, the room itself was freezing, and Cody still had mud caked into the seams of his armor from his tumble.

As long as he was up, Cody saw no reason to just lie there until it was time to leave for whatever mission they were to receive. No one was quite certain what it was, unless of course someone had told General Swiftwater what was going on and she decided to withhold the truth. But while she was well-known for rarely giving entirely explicit information, the general was not one to put her men in unnecessary danger, directly or indirectly.

So he swung himself out of bed, hitting the floor with a dull clunk. One of his brothers—Cap, the pilot, or so the commander believed—stirred, let out a huge yawn, and turned over with a few mumbled words that sounded vaguely like "that's the thruster, Twaurra, not the trigger." Ignoring the movement, Cody tiptoed to the door and headed for the gym.

He walked past the rec room, stopped, and turned back. There was a light showing through the door. Instinct kicked in immediately; he pressed to the side of the door and peered into the room. It was just a brother, thank goodness, leaned over a flickering holoscreen. The commander chided himself for overreacting—he hadn't been getting nearly enough sleep lately and was at this point mostly running on adrenaline, but that was no excuse for jumping at a light as if it was automatically an enemy.

The clone must have made some sort of audible sound, because the brother inside turned and called, "Who's there?"

Cody stepped inside, prompting the trooper to give off a small salute. He was in his armor, probably too tired to change out when they got onboard the ship, and the armor was decorated mostly in the orange-yellow color of the 49th. On the chest piece stood a battered red cross enclosed in a circle, the symbol the unit's medics all wore to easily identify each other. His face was pretty much the same as any other trooper's, with no scars or wildly colored hair, and pretty much the only thing that distinguished him from Cody (minus Cody's own scar, naturally) was a mustache.

Darn it. Most of the 49th were wilder in appearance and easier to remember, more or less, but the medics always seemed to blend into one. Cody wasn't even sure he knew all their names, since he hadn't really talked to them beyond "How long until I can fight again?" and "Will he survive?" and "I don't need another shot, I'm perfectly fine!" So, as embarrassing as it was, he was going to have to guess the medic's name.

"You're…Patch-up, aren't you?"

The medic smiled. "Just Patch, sir." He pointed to his arm. "You can tell by the 'patch' of yellow right here. It's the only place I've got a scar. Alf, on the other hand, has lost part of his right ear, and Needle has a needle painted on his shoulder bell."

Cody nodded gratefully. "Thanks, Patch." Well, at least I know three of their names, he thought, trying not to think of all the other brothers whose names he'd have to eventually learn. "What are you watching?"

"Some Coruscant news station. They're giving coverage of the Battle of Zaadja. Making all sorts of claims about how the only casualty on the Republic's side was a General Tohno and a few troopers."

Cody found himself shaking his head before the medic finished. "There were plenty of other casualties. General Tohno's loss might've been significant, but she was not the only one who died. Several hundred men were lost, and good men, too."

Patch shrugged nonchalantly and flipped through a few channels. "Coruscant usually gets it wrong. That's why I like to watch Siflee news. They do their research on Siflee." He finally settled on a station with an old holoshow on, a fictional medical program from the looks of it.

"Siflee? You mean that miniscule planet in the Naboo system?"

"Yeah, we were there about a year ago with the 501st. Planet was under Separatist occupation until we came. But I remember there was one reporter who wrote an article about us in the papers, and it was just so accurate….So I started paying attention to all the news they showed or published, and it turned out everyone there does their best to keep the facts straight. The only reason I'm not watching it now is 'cause we're too far away for the signal to reach here or something like that. What are you doing up, Commander?"

"Couldn't sleep," he explained quickly.

"Would it have anything to do with your little spill, or are you just running on adrenaline and can't sleep because of that?"

"Adrenaline, I think." It wasn't entirely a lie, but it wasn't exactly the whole truth, either.

His brother sighed heavily and sat down. "Commander, I know how hard it is to be shuttled off to another unit and just be expected to do your job while you're surrounded by strangers. It's happened to me a couple times. And I also know that the men aren't going to make it easy for you. Why? Well, other than the fact that most of them usually act childish when off-duty, back when the 49th was first deployed, we all made a pact with each other that no one from out-of-unit would ever take the place of Captain Zach or anyone who followed him, that all our leaders would be 49th born and bred. Obviously, more men came to the unit, and as a matter of fact I think only half of the troopers in here now are part of the original group that went to Geonosis, if that. But everyone who ended up here made the same oath, and while we all know you're not going to replace Zach, there are a couple guys who feel as if you are kind of invading the Corps, so you can expect them to give you a hard time. Is it stupid, petty, ridiculous, and unfair to you when you're clearly just trying to help us? Yeah, but I'm afraid that's the 49th for you. The stories I could tell about this would fill three encyclopedias and then spill over into the index. Now, since I'm a doctor and I don't like it when men lack respect for those above them (and believe me, that happens to me often enough), I can promise that I will gladly help you with anything you might need assistance with. Card games, making the men listen, problems with Commander Offee, you name it."

The mention of Commander Offee threw Cody off completely, and prompted him to respond with a very intelligent-sounding utterance of "Wha?"

"I'll help you with anything you need, Commander, that's all. For example, say Tip-Tap was trying to show off his flamenco dancing and instead landed in a pit of quicksand."

"No, I wasn't asking about you helping me out, I was wondering—what did you mean by problems with Commander Offee?"

Patch shrugged. "If Captain Zach and General Swiftwater are anything to judge by, commanding officers usually, if not always, argue with each other. And that's not a bad thing, at least not the way they do it, but every now and then it's better to compromise rather than to keep fighting and risk endangering men's lives, and I can help with that. And, of course, she is a girl."

All Patch's explanations were doing was restating things Cody already understood and further confuse him about the rest. "I'm sorry, Patch, but I still don't understand what that means."

"Well, I'm a doctor, first of all, and I've worked with General Swiftwater and Lieutenant Bluebird for most of the war, and both of them are women, and finally I don't think you've had much long-term experience with women without another officer above you to take care of…issues. So there will obviously come a time when I'll have to take care of a problem she has that you will have no idea how to handle."

"And that problem would be…."

"Sir, I've done my best to remain discrete about it because it's not the kind of thing most men like to discuss."

"You don't mean…."

"Yes, I mean that problem."

He just stood there for a moment, trying to absorb this.

The doctor chuckled at the look on Cody's face. "Well, sir, I'm pretty sure that when we get to Evanescent Base they'll want to see the commanding officers first before waking up the rest of us. I've got a couple mild sedatives that should be enough to put you under, and your own exhaustion should keep you asleep, if you'd be alright with it."

Cody accepted, and the doctor gave him the sedative. As he walked away, he thought he heard Patch say something, but it was probably just his imagination.

If Patch was only right about one thing, it was about waking up the commanding officers first. What really stank about this was that Cody had finally gotten some real sleep for the first time in a long time. On the other hand, Evanescent Base was perhaps the coolest base he had seen in an even longer time.

Why? Well, first of all, it was a giant flying fish.

Of course, it wasn't actually a fish, because most fish have trouble surviving long in most atmospheres, let alone the vacuum of space. But it was shaped like a fish, right down to the fins and bulging eyes. The deflector shields even bore the shape of giant scales over the hull, or so claimed their guide through the base when they landed in the humongous hangar (located right in the "belly" of the fish).

The second-most amazing thing—it even moved like a fish.

The tail was carefully segmented all over, allowing for broad sweeps back and forth in the blackness. Since it was a vacuum, the swishing tail was more of a decoration, but each movement was aided by the powerful engines so that the energy used for the sways was not a flippant waste. Overly extravagant, perhaps, but not completely useless.

As their guide claimed, the fins could also move, which seemed to be nothing more than a bunch of poodoo, but Cody let the matter pass. He also said that the bridge was actually two rooms, one in each eye, connected by a sort of central command center open on each side and a war room behind it, which sounded more plausible to the battle-hardened commander, but still a little far-fetched.

Sadly, he never got a chance to find out if either of these were true, because the trooper led them directly to the war room from the back. But in all fairness it probably was for the best, considering the state the group was in as a whole. General Swiftwater was attentive yet clearly sleepy-eyed, taking in everything with an interest which was far more detached than what Cody understood to be normal, Lieutenant Bluebird was trying to keep from yawning until she saw their guide (at which point she suddenly straightened and paid close attention to everything he said, but still stumbled from lack of sleep every now and again), and despite the fact that she was probably drawing energy from the Force Commander Offee was also trying hard to stay awake. Commander Cody himself was doing a pretty good job of hiding his exhaustion, or at least he thought he was, but in the back of his mind he kept on remembering the fact that he had been running on no more than six or seven hours of sleep over the last three days, which wasn't helping his non-tired charade much. It also made him irritable and grumpy, two things he didn't like being.

On the way up to the bridge, Cody did make what he thought was a good attempt at conversation with the trooper, but it didn't work out quite as well as he hoped.

It started with him remarking casually, "Maybe it's just me, but Evanescent Base seems more like a ship than a base."

The trooper raised an eyebrow at the comment. He was dressed in fatigues instead of armor, more like a bridge officer than a regular trooper but without gloves, and at one point or another he had rolled up his sleeves to the elbow, revealing well-muscled forearms and a few tattoos. For most of the time he had been looking at and chattering with the lieutenant, and now the superior officer got a good look at his face—same as all clones', really, save for three things: 1) his eyes, which were a brilliant sunset-orange from some unfathomable defect, 2) a shrapnel scar on his right cheek, and 3) hair dyed with streaks of red which seemed to be color-coordinated with his eyes. There was a small spark of annoyance in those freaky eyes, and he made a small effort at trying to suppress it, but it didn't work.

"It has to be like a ship," he explained, that bit of annoyance quietly through to his voice. "We can't stay for long in any system, so obviously we need to be able to move a lot faster than some lumbering beast like the Kaliida Shoals med-center."

The commander readjusted his hold on his helmet, trying to think of a way to answer that without sounding stupid again. "Well, obviously I didn't think of that, trooper, because I'm a bit tired right now. Sorry I couldn't figure out what was so obvious to someone who's not as sleep-deprived as I am."

The trooper bristled at some insult his superior had unknowingly uttered. "Sir, I am not some regular trooper. I am CT 75-8943, aka Sergeant Orange, and I do not appreciate being referred to like I'm just another meatcan."

Suddenly Cody stopped, reaching out to prevent Sergeant Orange from moving as well. "I don't like you're tone, trooper."

"And what are you gonna do about it, Commander? Huh? You wanna start a fight?"

There was a tense second where he was seriously considering whether or not it would be worth it to hit him and had determined that, considering he was in armor and Orange was not, it probably wouldn't hurt to start a fight, but before he could follow through on it Commander Offee stepped between them.

"Stop it, the both of you," she remarked sharply. "You are acting like fools. You, Sergeant, have no right to speak to a superior officer that way. And you, Commander, should know better than to start a fight."

Her words stung, and he hung his head in shame, muttering a quiet "Sorry, sir," under his breath. She was right. He should know better. What was worse, however, was that she thought he was acting like a fool. It wasn't that that she was entirely wrong, but the way she said it seemed to be part of some girl code for "you are a fool" rather than "you are acting like a fool". It was very possible she was only speaking to the Sergeant when she said that, but the thought didn't cross Cody's mind until after he got some real sleep.

For the time being, he thought she meant only him in that girl code, though he shouldn't have assumed anything since he had zero to zilch experience with girls in the first place, much less their "secret codes" which they used to speak to each other clandestinely. So he made a promise that by the end of the mission he would have proved her wrong about his apparent foolishness and guaranteed that she knew he was usually more rational and levelheaded than he currently was acting.

By the time he had run this course of thoughts through to the end, they had arrived in the war room. It was equipped with all sorts of high-tech scanning devices and in-depth maps of the system and the requisite holoprojector, and every wall was covered with more gadgets than a dozen Swiss army knives besides. Even in his embarrassed state, Cody couldn't help but be impressed by the display of technology.

The lieutenant made an audible gasp, causing Orange to smile slickly. "We have the latest in scanning, searching, audio, video, and defense technology. And if you would like, Lieutenant, maybe later I could show you around the armory? I'm pretty sure we have some new vibroblades down there. You could try them out, if you like."

Bluebird smiled, but there was something funny about it. "I would like that, Sergeant. Maybe one of the commanders or my general would also be interested?"

Sergeant Orange's suddenly downcast expression made Cody realize what he was doing. He contemplated warning the lieutenant, but something about the way she invited them made him think that she could take care of herself, and he was still pretty tired.

Now an officer in uniform walked up to them. "Sergeant, you are dismissed," he said in a low, gravelly voice before turning and saluting the Jedi. "General Swiftwater, Commander Offee, welcome aboard. I am Admiral Jensen, of Evanescent Base."

They gave the customary Jedi bow, and then the general greeted, "Admiral, I want to thank you for providing your sh—base for our use. This is Commander Cody of the 212th Attack Battalion and Lieutenant Bluebird, my right hand's right hand."

"Sir," saluted Cody.

"Sir," began Bluebird with a salute, "you have a very remarkable base here. If time permitted I would love to stay here and look over its weapons and defense systems. Sir."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Unfortunately we have little time for such exploits." He plodded over to the holoprojector and turned it on, revealing a map of the galaxy that focused in on one system. "This is the Tanyar system. The only inhabited planet—Tanyar—orbits in a figure-eight around its two suns, Tanyar A and Tanyar B. We have received intelligence from local law enforcement officers that claims the Eastern Hemisphere has some kind of Separatist base hidden there. Tanyar is not officially aligned with either side of the war, but for a long time they have kept up trade with the Republic, and we believe that by investigating this rumor and either coming back with solid evidence that it is not there or finding the base and destroying it, we can get them on our side.

"A small strike team will be investigating the Eastern Hemisphere while the rest of your men stay here. We will be in orbit around Tanyar A, since the planet is currently on the far side of Tanyar B. If this strike team finds anything at all, they report it to us, and we send the intelligence to Tanyar's government. We then follow their wishes, and leave when they ask us to. When the mission is finished, your unit will get out of our hangar and, upon threat of court marshal, will never breathe a word about this base to anyone. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir."

The general nodded. "I will inform my men of this condition. Is that all, Admiral? As you can probably imagine, we are all very tired, so if you would be so kind as to dismiss us, it would be greatly appreciated."

Admiral Jensen licked his fat lips and turned away, effectively but rudely dismissing them.

Just as they left the war room, Lieutenant Bluebird remarked, "Well, he didn't seem too happy to see us."

Ta-da! Chapter drei ist hier!

If I'm not mistaken, this chapter is longer than just about all of my others, and that's because I thought if I saved them getting their mission for the next chapter the story would just start stretching on forever, and that would be very annoying. And then I added in the very OOC Sergeant Orange.

Thanks go to natcat13 again for the mission, darthritter86 for his reviews, Aurora Lunar 0Love This0 for inspiration, and to all you lovely reviewers out there!

Don't expect an update anytime soon, practice for pit orchestra of my school's Phantom production begin on Monday, so I'll be busy, again! December=crazy!

A question to all of you readers to prompt more reviews: What did you think of Patch? and would you like to find out what happens to Bluebird when Orange gives her a tour of the weapons storage? (Don't worry, it's not as bad as you might think, I'm not going to include know...yeah.)

Happy New Year!