Beat the System

"You can be more than a conqueror, you will never face defeat
"You can dare to win by losing all - you can face the heat, and dare to beat the system."

Clone Captain CC-53-4183, nicknamed Deck, gazed intently across the strange landscape of Felucia.

He hadn't been with the 327th Star Corps for more than a month, and was still getting accustomed to his new unit. After recovering from severe injuries courtesy of a Larty crash on Duran, he had reported for duty, only to find that his Captain's commission in the 41st Elite had been reassigned, and he was to join Commander Bly's forces serving under Jedi General Aayla Secura. It was a difficult transition, not so much joining the new unit, but leaving behind his brothers in the 41st. Ever since his promotion to Captain, he'd been forced to separate from his buddies in 112th, which was hard enough. Still, he was always working with Trio, Jym, Pushup and his other squadmates regularly.

After the crash, and the reassignment, he never really felt like he 'fit' in the 327th.

Still, it was a good unit. Commander Bly was well known among the GAR, ranking alongside Commander Cody of the 212th Attack Battalion, and his friend Captain Rex of the 501st Legion in the gossip and lore of wartime media hype. His Jedi General Secura was respected and capable, though Deck hadn't actually seen her much. She was not as exacting as General Undulli when it came to military protocol, though not nearly as flippant as General Skywalker. She seemed to have a good relationship with Commander Bly – too good, if one believed the rumors that traveled the ranks of the troopers. That was certainly foreign to Deck – General Undulli would have never tolerated even hints of such inappropriate gossip. Sometimes Deck wondered if General Secura secretly enjoyed the extra attention.

No matter, she was his General, Commander Bly his direct superior, and they were still at war. A war that seemed to never end.

Lieutenant Galle gave the signal to advance, and Deck and his men fell behind the comforting form of the AT-TE walker. There was a reason Deck was reminiscing on his past with the 41st – his former Jedi Commander, Barriss Offee, was on Felucia as well, having also been promoted to the rank of General and reassigned. She was assisting General Secura in the investigative mission they were now entangled with. Deck doubted she'd even recognize him anymore, though she was directly responsible for his promotion after the fateful mission to Mustafar, over two years ago.

They would be journeying for some distance before they caught up with General Offee. According to the comm chatter, she'd been ambushed and lost most of her small squad, and was holding off a large droid company. The arrival of Galle and the walker should hopefully break the stalemate and begin to make some progress.

The distance gave Deck some time to think – something he had been doing a lot more of lately. Working with Commander - General Offee brought back a lot of memories, some good, others not so much. He'd seen a lot of action working under her and General Undulli. Had fought many battles, and lost many brothers.

And along the way, he'd learned.

A clone was always learning – ever since you left the breeding chamber, everything was new, and interesting. You learned about many worlds, their customs, people, weather, and place in the galaxy. You learned about weapons, tactics, strategies, rules of combat. You learned your role in the machine that was the Grand Army. You learned to follow orders, without question or thought. You learned to accept your place as a part of the system.

Deck somehow had forgotten that part.

No, he hadn't forgotten. He'd learned. More than he was supposed to.

He wasn't exactly a visionary. Deck would be the last person to claim to have discovered something on his own. No, he had learned from someone else. Another clone, another brother. But one who was more than just a copy of the same man. An individual. A man who had learned that there was such a thing as a power of choice, even for those who never were truly born. That there is such a thing as purpose, and meaning, even for those who were never taught the words.

The man who had taught him was none other than Captain Rex, CC-7567, of the 501st. His brother. His friend. A man who had learned that there was more to himself than what he was built to be. A man who knew of potential that was never meant to be known.

Deck's eyes absentmindedly trailed the strange conical trees on either side of him. It was strange, really. When Rex first told him his story, of his encounter with a real, clone deserter, and spoke of him with respect and near admiration, he was stunned. No, shocked, near horrified. Everything in him was screaming that it was wrong. This stranger, this lost brother was a traitor. He should be brought to justice. He should be made to pay for his crime.

And yet, here was Rex, a loyal soldier if ever there was one, who not only respected and venerated this criminal, but had effectively trampled his sworn duty by letting this deserter be. Rex was adamant – his place was with the Army; he didn't even consider following this stranger's footsteps. Yet the Captain had learned to accept them as being his brother's chosen path, even as his own lay along the same road that was chosen for him.

Rex still fought, but not only because he was bred to do so. He fought, and he obeyed, because he chose to do so.

And, by making that choice, Rex was free.

Not just a part of the system. Not just a converter in the great machine that was all a clone was meant to ever know. He was a man, an individual, who fought, because he would not allow ill to befall those who did not. That was his choice.

Deck wasn't nearly the imaginative, free thinker that Rex was. But he was a learner, and, while it at first aghast at what Rex had said and done, he was fond of thinking. And so he thought. Thought long and hard, over the strange ideas that Rex had planted. He knew that it was a bad move – he was sheltered from these concepts for a reason. He should know better.

That's when things got interesting. Because Deck already had done some of this thinking. He already had learned to resent his lack of choice, his position as a simplistic component of someone else's grand scheme. He'd already found himself chaffing for something greater.

And when he finally found it, he was horrified?

That's a clone, for you, he thought wryly to himself. Finally he's given the chance to know and understand the very thing he was thirsting for, and still he revolts at the mere idea. Such was the nature of a clone trooper. Things that were treasured, demanded by the spirit of man, were so twisted and distorted, as to cause these men to despise them.

Deck kicked a stone, angrily. He shook his head – I should stop thinking so much. He always got angry when he pondered these issues. Rex was a better man than he was, in that way. Deck still felt there was something not right about it all – somewhere, somehow, it was all wrong. For a short time – very short – he had blamed the Jedi; the strange, otherworldly and sometimes overly idealistic creatures that led the clone army. That train of thought had died not too long after it started, thanks to that same mission to Mustafar. Watching his Jedi Commander sacrifice her friend, and then herself, to save him and his brothers – well, it took the tibanna out of his powerpack. Another lesson was learned that day. But that merely left him with a gnawing resentment of... nothing?

Hardly a satisfying conclusion.

He had grown even more reclusive, more quiet since then. He spent far too much time mulling over questions that had no answers. The war did provide one advantage – during battle he was able to leave off the intellectual meandering and flex muscle and shoot. It was an enjoyable diversion, though an empty one. So long as he came home after the fight, he would return to the same, grating questions.

And now was the time for just that – a break from the never ending mental stalemate. A brief reprieve, though – in all likelihood, the planet would be secure before long. Resistance had been lagging all day, and soon it would be a matter of mopping up shattered droid companies. Deck glanced smugly at the walker towering over him and his men. General Offee would be out of this mynock's nest in no time.

They were approaching her last known location, when the order came.

Lieutenant Galle received it first, then Deck.

"Execute Order sixty-six."

Deck's voice involuntarily joined the chorus of "Yes sir." The Lieutenant began to give instructions, but Deck wasn't listening. Contingency Order 66. The Jedi have betrayed the Republic. Remove them. Lethal force. There wasn't much question of what the 'lethal force' would be. It was quite literally walking over him.

Captain Deck was thrown right back into the ion storm of intellectual fury that he had just left behind. Again, everything in him was shouting, Orders. No question. No thought. Follow orders. It was simple, it was straightforward. It was all a part of the system. The system that Deck was bred to obey. And everything in him demanded he obey.

No. Not everything. Not anymore.

This time, there was something else screaming at him. Almost like another man, but it wasn't. It was him. But it wasn't CC-53-4183. Not the Clone Captain of the 327th Star Corps. It was him, the individual. The man who had already defied orders once, by promising to not divulge another man's doing the same. The man who had watched the person he was about to kill, lay her life down to keep him alive. And the man that insisted that it was not right.

Deck's heartbeat was growing hard and fast, as he suddenly broke from the trance-like stupor he had fallen into, and realized exactly what he was about to do.

He was about to kill, in cold blood, Barriss Offee.

Why? Because she was a Jedi. And as his part in the system, he was now to turn on her and her kind, for no other reason than that that was what he was told to do. She had done him no wrong. Nor his brothers. Ah, but that was an understatement. Mustfara. The mission. Where she had left her friend to die, to save him, and his brothers. And then attempted to sacrifice her own life to save him and Rex. All in the name of the strange moral code that drove the Jedi Order.

Like the familiar machine that was driving him to destroy her.

This isn't right. This was why he was angry. This was why he sat alone, his brow furrowed, late into the night, trying to make sense of his place in life. It wasn't right. It was never right. How could it be right, to spend his life as a piece of the machine, only to have it turn him on someone he owed his life to?

Suddenly, he broke loose. He wouldn't be a part of that machine. He would choose for himself, for once. Some far away brother had chosen to desert. Another had chosen to fight.

Deck would choose, too. He would choose not to murder those to whom he owed his life. He would chose not to destroy those who had done him good, not wrong.

And his universe fell apart.

He was lost, drifting in unfamiliar space. He had no guidance, no direction. Suddenly his orders, the things he thought he resented yet upon which he depended, were lost to him. What was right? What was wrong? Nothing made sense anymore. So what if he chose not to kill the General? His brothers were about to do it. His brothers were good, right? Can't fight brothers. His brothers were about to kill General Offee.

Individuality was a lot harder than he thought.

They were nearing the target. The sounds of blaster bolts ricocheting off a familiar beam of plasma could be heard. Soon they would be in range.

There wasn't time to figure it all out. Wasn't time to wonder about the Jedi's betrayal. No time to wonder whether General Offee even knew of the order. No time for him to sit and ponder this new path.

Only one thought stayed the the storm within him. One concept gave him purpose and drive. One last thing to hold on to.

The Jedi had given her life to save him.

It's the least I can do to return the favor.

Everything became a blur. He sprinted ahead of the squad, not noticing or heeding the startled shouts and orders crackling through the combat channel. He ran, leaping over rubble and droid wreckage, past the limp forms of fallen brothers, towards the General's location. He knew he had a few minutes - it would take at least that long before the shock wore off and his former comrades realized what he was doing.

Then he saw her. The familiar blue blade moving with the same elegance he had seen so many times before. Few Jedi wielded a laser sword with the grace of either General Undulli or her apprentice. An entire company of battle droids were at a standstill before her, their red bolts springing back towards them with startling speed. She was alone; the last of her men had fallen..

One shot from the approaching AT-TE, and she'd join them.

Not if I have anything to say about it.

He only had seconds. He picked up his pace, startling himself at his own speed. She sensed his approach, but obviously assumed he was merely accompanying her reinforcements. She moved aside, as though to clear space for them to engage.

He leveled his 'deece', sizing up the droid column on his HUD. The shouts from his fellow troopers within the helmet was rising in intensity and volume. He flicked the comm to mute, and activated the external channel. "General!" he shouted urgently, as he began blasting into the droid lines. "General!" She seemed to take notice, but continued focusing on the fight.

Frustrated, he moved closer - the remaining troopers were just coming in range. He had to warn her. Please... watch it with the laser sword.

As he came within arms reach of her, she began to move away again, trying to keep him out of the path of her twirling blade. "General!" he shouted again, still blasting into the enemy machines. This time, she turned to look at him briefly. "Get out of here!" he ordered, rank no longer meaning anything when referring to a 'traitorous' Jedi. Still firing, he continued shouting at her. "General, you've been turned in! The men are about to kill you!"

That did seem to get her attention, finally. She spun behind a pile of wreckage for rudimentary cover from the droid fire - still wide open for the imminent attack by his brothers. Disbelief was written over her face, and she was obviously unconvinced.

Deck heard the whine of the AT-TE, as the hydraulic pistons adjusted the enormous cannon. Out of the corner of his eye he could see his - former - squad had formed up behind the walker. The troopers assumed offensive formations, Skinner, his Sergeant, no doubt shouting orders in Deck's place. Smoothly, seamlessly, the clones prepared their assault. Each man knew his place, every man played his part. Having brought with him the 112th's extensive auxiliary training routines, Deck had played a large role in refining that efficiency, in oiling that slick, unstoppable juggernaut. It was a soldier's elegance. Sharp, crisp, and deadly.

It was a machine; one that he had once been proud of, and yet resented.

Now, he was no longer a part of that machine. He, and his former General, were the prey.

The cannon charged up, a low whine that whistled over head.

No time to argue.

He flung himself at General Offee, the sudden force propelling both of them into a rough, tumbling roll.

Fire. Pain. Heat.

Everything disappeared into a flash of white. Reflexively he curled his body over the young Mirialan. The shockwave seemed to disintegrate his armor, searing heat penetrating every joint and crack. The intensity was overpowering - he couldn't speak, couldn't cry out, couldn't do anything. He could feel tendons snapping, bones breaking from the incredible force of the blast. The pain was first excruciating, then seemed to disappear altogether as his nerve endings either burned away or were paralyzed by the shock.

It seemed an eternity, though it could only have been a few seconds, before the blast cleared, leaving them lying amidst a rolling cloud of dust that blocked everything else from view. Everything blurred as he peered through bruised eyelids and his shattered HUD. He could hear blaster fire striking the ground not far from them, but it seemed that the clones were now engaging the droid force - nobody had seen his sudden break.

Not that it mattered - not for him, anyway. He was dying, and he knew it.

Only one thing mattered. One thing left to do.

The General. Barriss. The Jedi. I've got to get her away from here. Got to get her to leave, find some place safe.

Calling upon his last remaining strength, he shifted his body off of her, nearly passing out all at once from the pain. The shock had worn off, and now he could feel every tear and burn. A hoarse groan escaped his lips, but he managed to turn over, freeing her from his protective death grip.

She rose quickly, shock and pain evident on her face. She knelt over him, calling into his ear-piece as loud as she dared. "Captain!" she spoke desperately. "Captain!" She began to remove his scorched armor, as though intending to tend to his injuries.

Deck strained to raise his head, jerking his arm away from her trembling hands, before answering roughly. "No! Sir... you must... get out... leave..." He could hardly breathe, his gasps coming irregularly and harsh. "Order... sixty-six... you must leave... now!" He collapsed again.

Barriss stared in hopeless confusion and torment. She obviously had no idea what he was saying. And I thought the Jedi were supposed to be perceptive. Despite the withering pain, he made one more attempt to get through to her. "Orders... to kill all Jedi... you must leave... Outer Rim... anywhere... stay away... the Republic..." Again he was reduced to sporadic gasps, desperately hoping she would listen this time.

A slight degree of understanding seemed to cross her features, though it was lost on her pained and tear-streaked face. He knew she wanted to help him, but knew as well as he did that it was too late. He was virtually dead already, if it weren't for the adrenaline rush that had carried him here. She nodded, before reaching quickly to remove his ruined helmet, looking into his eyes for the last time.

He wondered what was left to see.

"Deck?" she whispered, as heartbreaking recognition drew her features yet more. He tried to nod, tried to tell her to go, to save herself. But he couldn't - everything was going dim, his feeling was fading, as though his body was dying from the outside in.

One last time, he opened his mouth to speak. "Barriss...' he whispered. "Stay safe... please... live."

Barriss bowed her head, bringing her smooth, olive face was inches from his scarred, battered one. He heard her speak, but he no longer could decipher the words. He saw her close the distance between them, and felt the soothing touch of soft, cool skin against his charred cheek. Or lips? He didn't know, he couldn't tell anymore.

It didn't matter. That soothing, calming sensation seemed to drown out all the pain and chaos that surrounded both of them. He knew that he had done what was right. He had broken loose from the magnificent and unfeeling machine that he had been born into. Like his friend, Captain Rex, he had found a purpose. Perhaps not as grand or far reaching as whatever Rex had found. A small, perhaps only temporary one, but it was enough. Enough to give meaning to his life, and now his death.

As his consciousness faded he dimly regretted he hadn't learned this sooner, but he had made his choice none the less. His life did have purpose, because he had defended an innocent from murder. He had meaning, because he had given her a second chance. He had made his choice. And though he would die, it was not in vain.

He was free.

The warm, tingling sensation of her tears running down his own face.

A tender clasping of his numbed hand.

A soft, caring voice.

He closed his eyes.

She laid a hand on his brow, still warm – whether from the life that had left him or from the fire he had saved her from, she couldn't tell. She remembered him – the Sergeant and later Captain in the 41st Elite, with whom she had worked prior to her Knighting. The angry young trooper that, by the end of that mission on Mustafar, had saved her from Ventress, held her and defended her against impossible odds. She already had owed him her life since that day, and the life of her friend. Now, she bore an even greater debt to this man, one that she knew she could never repay.

She wanted to stay with him, even die with him, but she could not. He had made this sacrifice, because he wanted her to live. And as long as she held the power, she would live, to honor his last wish.

The battle was tapering off, and the smoke would only hide her for a short time. She still had no idea what had happened. Order Sixty six? She had never heard of such an order. A local rebellion, a rouge officer and his men, that she could understand – it was rare, to be sure, but there had been traitors among the ranks of the clones before. But the Republic? The symbol of freedom and justice in the galaxy? The Jedi's trusted ally and partner in this war? Orders to kill all Jedi? How could such a thing be possible?

She didn't know, and might never know, but she knew what she had to do in the meantime. She stood cautiously – virtually unharmed by the blast; Deck had absorbed the entire force of the shot. She retrieved her scorched lightsaber, not daring to ignite and test it lest it reveal her survival and location. Casting one last, tearful look at the broken man who had saved her life, she turned Westward, moving stealthily towards the native forest as she made her way towards her fighter.

She left a hero, lying in the Felucian sand. Her life was his legacy, and she would honor it.


Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars, but I do own Deck, and the 112th.

Author's Note: Deck is an OC, and features in my story "Sisters of Flame." This one-shot follows (and heavily refers to) that story, and it also precedes my future story (tentatively) titled "Grudges" (title subject to change).

I really don't like losing main characters... I think this is the only one I've lost. Sigh, I miss him. I like writing clones breaking Order 66, but I wanted something that wasn't 1. A direct copy of Rex's character (post-Saleucami), or 2. Romantic (though I know I left hints at the end). I wanted to explore another twist on why a clone might disobey this order. Obviously, that rarely ever happened, so it also has to be fairly extraordinary circumstances to "wake up" a throughly trained (and near brain-washed) clone (or any individual, really).

Inspired loosely by the lyrics of "Beat the System", by the Christian hard-rock band Petra. The lyric has always reminded me of the clones, for some reason