Updated July 6, 2013.
The idea for the story came from a scene in Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The first time we ever see the clones, they drop into the arena at Geonosis and save the day. Except there is this one clone who is shot as the gunship is taking off, and they leave him. No one grabs him. They just leave him.
Huh. Imagine what it feels like to see the gunship pulling away and know you've been left behind?
My name is CT-3064 and I did not desert.
I was left behind.
It was just another backwater Outer Rim planet, with resources hardly worth fighting over. Yet, there we were, fighting the Seppies like the whole fate of the Republic depended upon it. And, since we were always stretched too thin, the fight was not going well.
At this rate, we're going to run out of clones.
I heard the familiar sound of a brother crying out in shock and pain. The sound just doesn't affect me in the same way it did at the start of the war; I've heard it too many times. At Geonosis, I thought I'd go mad from the chorus of it. Now, I seem to be deaf to it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another brother fall. He keeled straight over. Thump.
"Medic!" I yelled out automatically. I'm wasting my breath. The clone medics in our squadron are dead. They've been dead for a while now.
Still, it was reflex. I hear the 'thump' and I shout it. Fekkin' flash training from Kamino.
No medics. Not enough of anything. Except for tinnies.
Seems to me whomever is calling the shots back in Coruscant has lost interest in us. Or, maybe the war is over already, and nobody has bothered to tell us. We go through the motions day after day, and the tinnies do it, too. We're all too stupid to know any better.
There are rumors that there won't be a clone left alive anywhere inside of twelve months. We're dying at such a fast clip these days. I believe it, actually. I don't even care anymore. At one time, I could feel. The war has blown all the fekkin' emotions out of me. I'm more droid than the tinnies now.
Three years of fighting and I'm probably just about a perfect soldier by now. I obey orders without thinking. I'm fast and efficient at any task a clone must do. Tell me to shoot something- anything- and I'll do it. I'm too numb to feel anymore. I stopped feeling when I lost every vode I cared about. It hurts too much to feel. Just waiting for the day a tinnie shoots me, too, so I can cease to exist.
We're done for now. Fek, yes.
The base is on the other side of this piddly little planet. It's not much, but at least it's a safe place to get something to eat, get some sleep, and forget about this stupid war for a few hours. The droids have never attacked our base. It would seem to be the most efficient way to wipe us out all at once. It's as if they want to drag this war out.
# # #
The LAATs touch down.
I make a run for the nearest gunship. Other vode emerge from behind whatever bits of shelter they were squatting behind all day. A number of us survived this day. Time for the "shoot-the-clones-in-the-back" run back to the larty. It's like a game between us and the tinnies. All we had left to do was not get shot between here and the gunship. We're extra vulnerable as we are boarding.
I've reached the gunship, and a brother is reaching an arm out to pull me in. I recognize the markings on the helmet - it's Sky. He's one of the replacement guys that we picked up after the battle of - hell, I don't remember any more. I stopped getting to know the new guys after we lost Cooper. He died on Agamar. Having a close vod makes all the difference. Losing that vod changes everything.
I didn't make any kind of effort to get to know any of these new guys. When Sky pulled me into the gunship, well, that was a real brotherly thing for him to do, considering I'd been such a di'kut. If I wasn't so burnt out, I might have even considered talking to him. Actually making an effort with another vod. But, I was emotionally crippled, so I gave a curt nod, without saying a word. Sky nodded back and turned away.
I'll always remember that moment, because it was the only communication we ever had. After the terrible thing that happened a few minutes later, I regretted I never said a word to him. Sky seemed like a decent brother. Cooper would have liked him.
Sky was pulling me in as the larty lifted off. I was half in, balanced on the rail - the rest of me was holding on to Sky. If he let go, I would plummet back to the planet below. But, he had a good grip on me. Another second or two, and I'd be in the larty. I'd be squashed in a seat next to my vode, thinking about what they were serving for dinner. The next few seconds happened so fast.
The first shot just clipped the ship, but, it was enough to give it a good hard jolt.
A second shot was right behind it...
... and technically, that second shot didn't actually hit the ship- because it hit me.
I felt a searing pain in my back, and smelled both burnt plastoid armor, and burnt flesh. I was jerked backwards, off the railing, pulling my brother with me. I'd been gripping Sky so tightly the bones in my hand shattered. I not only felt it - I heard it. I screamed and released Sky.
I fell backwards off the rail, and the other troopers in the ship lunged for us. It was like a sea of white coming for us. Brothers until the end. All of them. But, it was too late. We were already too far out of the ship.
I'll never forget the sight of all their helmeted heads peering forlornly down as they rose and we fell. I had a clear line of sight, staring straight up at them as we crashed to the ground. Sky and I were a mass of kicking and flailing legs. The journey back down to the ground was surprisingly short. I had thought we were higher up in the air. Sky hit first. I'm not sure why - since I'd fallen out the door a fraction of a second before him. But, he beat me to the ground and hit first.
I still remember the sound Sky's armor made as it impacted with the ground - a peculiar sound of armor cracking. When plastoid cracks all over, it sounds almost like glass shattering.
Then, I landed on top of him. My ribs broke first. A different snap from my hand. You'd think that bones breaking would sound the same all over, but they don't. It felt completely different, too, as the bones splintered and gave way.
My head hit last. It takes a great deal of force to crack a plastoid armor helmet. But, my bucket slammed into Sky's, and it cracked and split open. I was still conscious for a few seconds. My vision was hazy, and all I could see was blood rapidly pooling on the ground.
I was sure Sky was dead, and that I'd killed him. There was no greater shame than a brother killing another brother.
As I watched the pool of blood grow bigger, and my vision grew dimmer, I wondered if I was dying. The thought cheered me up.
Please let me die, please let me die, please let me die….
I kept muttering it to myself over and over.
It took a surprisingly long time, but finally, I got my wish and everything went black.
# # #
Tess was looking for guns. Big guns would be great. She needed to be armed in case Dirk came around again. Why couldn't he just leave her alone? With her father gone, she was more at risk than ever. The arrival of the Separatists had changed the balance of power on the planet. Law and order was virtually non-existent. There was no one Tess could call for help.
Thankfully, Dirk hadn't shown up at her farm in a while. But, he'd be back. She knew he would be back. She hardly slept at night in her lonely farmhouse, fearing every creak and noise, wondering if it was Dirk. It was hard enough running the farm by herself, now that both her parents were dead. But, sleeping in constant fear, because of a man who wouldn't take "no" for an answer, well, it was just getting to be too much.
So, Tess needed weapons. She would place them in strategic places all around the farm so that she'd never be caught off guard, no matter what. That way, she'd be safe from Dirk.
It was the reason why she was now creeping up on a battlefield. She needed guns. Big guns. Like the kind the clones used. The battlefield was littered with smashed up droids, and fallen men in white armor. Tess knew that when the Separatists won a battle, they sent a "clean-up crew" through to ensure all the clones were dead. She probably only had a matter of minutes to scavenge for weapons before a crew of armed droids swarmed the scene. These types of battles seemed to happen all the time since the Separatists and the clones had descended upon their quiet little planet and disturbed the peace with all their fighting. The noise of it kept her awake at night sometimes.
It was quiet now, though.
Tess didn't see any activity on the battlefield. Everything was eerily quiet. Tess peered around a copse of trees one last time, and then dashed onto the scene of the recent battle.
The first couple of blasters she came upon were useless - destroyed in the same blasts that had taken out their unfortunate owners.
Tess had better luck as she went along, and found one working DC-15 from an unfortunate clone who had been shot in the head, and found a usable blaster, still clutched in the hand of a disabled droid.
Tess rounded a corner, and came upon a very odd sight. Two clones piled on top of each other, as if someone had dropped them from a great height. She ran closer to investigate, knowing she was running out of time.
She sucked in her breath. The bottom clone was totally crushed, his armor shattered. He was lying in a puddle of blood. He appeared to have broken the fall of the clone above him.
"Didn't do him much good, though," Tess murmured to herself, "someone shot the poor guy in the back."
The clone had a lengthy blaster wound in the back of his armor. He lay completely still and unmoving. His helmet had split, revealing his face. Tess studied the dead clone. She'd never seen a clone's face before.
"You're much younger than I thought you'd be," she said, kneeling down next to him, curiously, to get a better look.
Her father was always telling her that her curiosity was both her best and worst trait. Tess couldn't help it. She was just a naturally curious person. At the moment, she was intrigued by the clone. She peered around quickly at the battlefield. Still no signs of the droids. On impulse, Tess to remove his helmet. It was difficult to get off at first. Tess bit her lip in concentration, then realized it was sealed to the rest of the suit. With a hiss, the helmet released and she was able to remove it the rest of the way.
Tess gasped. She hadn't expected the clones to look like this at all.
The unmoving figure in front of her was so exotic looking. She assumed a whole race of men bred to be soldiers would be plain looking. This clone had dusky skin, wavy black hair, and long eyelashes. She wondered how old he had sighed, thinking what a waste it was that all these men had to die. For what? Was her sparsely populated planet worth the death of all these young men?
Tess sighed, set down the battered helmet next to the clone, and went back to her task at hand. The clone's DC-15 had been destroyed when he was shot. It was strapped across his back, and was now a melted mess, But, he still had his blaster securely strapped in his holster. Tess reached down to take it. Tess undid the strap that held in place, and began pulling it out of the holster. A strong hand clamped down over hers.
Tess let out a high-pitched scream of shocked surprise. She looked up into the clone's face. His eyes were slightly unfocused, and only opened half-way. But, in his eyes she could see his challenge. He was daring her to try to take his gun.
"You're not dead!" Tess whispered in shock.
The clone didn't speak, just continued to regard her. He blinked hard several times. Tess could see how much effort it was for him, just to try to keep his eyes focused on her. Tess heard a distance rumbling.
"Droids!" Tess said in alarm.
The clone tilted his eyes ever so slightly to the side, wincing as he did so, glancing toward the droids, and then back at Tess. Tess glanced over nervously at the droids. The clone followed her gaze, and then made eye contact with her again.
Tess heard the sound of blaster fire in the distance. Tess rocked back on her heels, and chewed her lip thinking. She looked over in the direction of the blaster fire, and then back at the young, injured soldier lying right in front of her.
He continued to regard her steadily with his exotic brown eyes. He blinked furiously a few times, as if struggling to either stay conscious, or keep his vision focused. Tess studied him for another long moment.
"OK, I hope I don't regret this," Tess muttered to herself. Tess took a deep breath, "I have to get you out of here."
His expression changed to one of surprise.
The droid cruiser had just reached the far end of the clearing. Tess heard shots ringing out. The droids were shooting the fallen clones. She used the cover of trees and bushes to quickly bring her speeder over to the fallen clone undetected. She leapt out of the speeder. His eyes were closed, and he looked deathly pale. Her heart stuck in her throat. Was she too late? Was he already dead? On the far side of the clearing, she heard the disturbing sound of cries ringing out. Not all of the other clones were dead, then. Well, they soon would be. Tess felt sickened by the whole thing. She knelt down by the clone in front of her and touched his face. His eyes flew open.
"Not dead!" she exclaimed.
"Tal," he said so softly she wasn't sure if she had heard.
"You keep- calling me- 'not dead!'" the clone gasped out, a tiny quirk of a smile forming at his lips, "my name- is Tal."
Tess looked at him, stunned once again. The sounds of the shots were getting closer. She put an arm under him, trying to lift him. She tried not to think of the fact that he was enmeshed with another human being, who was squashed. Tal cried out in pain. Tess quickly let go, easing him back down.
"Ah! You are a lot heavier than you look," Tess said, looking nervously back in the direction of the droids, "I'm going to need your help to get you in the speeder."
"You – must—go—now," Tal said, blood forming at his lips as he spoke. His eyes flicked toward the droid destroyer.
"Sorry, once I have my mind made up, that's it," She slid an arm under him again, "One - two - "
"Go!" Tal gasped out, not understanding why it was this woman was so hell-bent on saving him.
"Listen, soldier! You either come with me, or we both die, right here, right now!" the woman shouted, right in his face, as the droid cruiser came ever closer.
Tal's eyes widened, and he couldn't bear the thought of another death on his conscious, he grabbed onto the woman's arm.
It was fortunate that the droids were in the process of shooting someone just as she was lifting Tal. Well, most unfortunate for the person getting shot, but it did a great job of covering up Tal's cries of pain as he was being lifted.
Tess noticed when the clones cried out in pain, they all sounded the same. Tal's cries from having his broken bones and blaster burns pulled upon blended in perfectly with the cry of another wounded clone being assassinated by the droids.
Tess didn't think she'd ever forget that particular sound for as long as she lived. Tal clutched his mid-section with one arm, and had his other arm wrapped around Tess. Doubled-over and in halting steps, she dragged him into her speeder.
Tess was immensely relieved once she got him settled in the seat. He passed out as soon as he was situated in the seat.
Tess slammed her foot all the way down on the accelerator pedal, pinning it to the floor. She tore away from the clearing, just as the droid cruiser came lumbering around the corner, looking for more clones to shoot.
# # #
Tess kept glancing over at Tal as she rode back to the farm.
"Don't die, OK? I'm sure I'd be in so much trouble if it looked like I was stealing dead clones or something. There have got to be a whole bunch of laws against such things," Tess chattered on nervously to Tal's unconscious form. Blood continued to bubble on Tal's lips, and his pallor was terrible. He looked more dead than alive.
"Oh Tess, you've done some bone-headed things in your life," she murmured to herself, "but this tops them all."
So, all-in-all, what had her trip to the battlefield accomplished?
She had come back with one DC-15, one droid blaster, and one clone blaster, oh, with a clone attached to it.
"I should get my head examined," Tess muttered, as she sped back to her farm. She kept nervously looking behind her, worried that she would be spotted by a droid patrol. Her speeder was uncovered, and the gleaming white clone in the front seat was rather obvious.
Tess' stomach was in knots for the entire trip. She was immensely relieved when she arrived back at her farm. She left the clone in the speeder, while she ran into the farmhouse to prepare someplace to put him.
"Don't die!" she instructed his unconscious form as she ran off.
Tess made recording time preparing a bed in the farmhouse's main room. For most of Tess' teen years, her Mom had been plagued with a chronic pain condition. Her father, a talented farmer/handyman/inventor, had designed a couch/daybed that could easily be converted into a bed. Her Mom spent her last few years living on the bed in the main room. It allowed her to still be a part of the family's day-to-day activities, even as her illness had progressed. The bed had sat in storage for several years now.
Tess pushed the bed in front of the hearth - the warmest spot in the main room- glad the piece of furniture was easily movable. She went back outside to retrieve her clone. Her clone? She halted - mid-step - in the middle of the main room. What was she doing anyway? Was she insane - bringing this unknown soldier into her home? What was she doing hiding him from the Separatists at her farm? What was she going to do with him when he got well? What if he left? What if didn't want to leave? What if...
Tess's father always chastised her for worrying too much about the future, and not enough about the here and stopped worrying, and just started doing - that was her father's way. It was not always the best way, but, it did get things done.
She headed back out to the landspeeder. She had no clever ideas for getting the clone, Tal, she reminded herself, into the house. He was still laying pale and slumped in the speeder. He didn't look any better, but, at least he didn't look any worse.
"Tal?" she said, leaning down and speaking right in his ear.
"Hey Trooper Tal! Wake up!" Tess shouted in his ear.
Tal opened up one bleary eye and looked at her with annoyance.
"You- are a- very loud- woman," he said, his speech slurred with fatigue and pain. Blood continued to bubble around his lips.
Tess blinked in surprise, then started to laugh. She immediately composed herself, reminding herself of the seriousness of Tal's condition.
"We have to get you in the house," Tess said, "You're too big for me to carry. You'll have to walk."
Tal closed his eyes for a long moment, then looked up at her again.
"OK," he gasped out, "Tried - flying. Didn't - work out."
Tess gave him a confused look, but then decided she'd ask him more about that later. She opened the speeder door. Tal just eyed her, still not moving, his head resting back against the seat rest. Judging by his smashed helmet, Tess figured he had a concussion, and likely a massive headache.
"OK, come on, let's do this," Tess said, kneeling down and pulling one of his arms over her shoulders. She stood up, and start to lift him up. As she started to move him, he gasped and his face turned ashen. He clutched at his mid-section with his other arm.
"Sorry!" she said.
"S'OK," he gasped out, "just- my -ribs." He could barely get the words out. His breathing was already very labored.
Tess slid her other arm behind his back, doing her best to to avoid the melted armor, and blaster wound. She cast a worried look at his face, wondering if he was even going to survive the short journey into the house.
"Up we go," she said, bracing her knees, and pulling him upright. She could feel that he was helping as much as he could, pushing up with his legs.
As she pulled him up, he uttered the same cry of pain she'd heard in the battlefield. It was the same cry she had heard when the droids were finishing off the surviving clones.
The sound was heart-wrenching. Every part of her wanted to stop hurting him, put him back down, let him rest and stop the pain. But, she knew if she did that he would surely die. He seemed close to death now. She could feel it. She was sure he could, too.
"You can do this," she said, trying to sound encouraging. She was dragging him, as much as guiding him, the few short steps to the front door.
His breathing was so labored that Tess thought he might be close to suffocating. She resisted the urge to look toward his face, because she knew it would only slow down their progress. One way or another, she knew she had to get him inside now and start treating his injuries.
Just another step, she told herself. Come on, Tess. You can do this. Just get him, one more step.
Come on, Tal. Just one more step, Tal was sure he was going to pass out from pain and exhaustion. But, he kept pushing himself, calling upon every trick he'd ever learned during his training on Kamino to push his body just a little bit further.
He knew if he gave up now it would mean the end for him.
Wait, didn't you just beg to die such a short time ago? Somehow, now, that the end was so near, Tal didn't want to die. This odd little farm girl who'd come out of nowhere, tried to steal his blaster, and then dragged him off the battlefield, had brought a spark of interest back into his life. He couldn't quite identify why, but, he felt like sticking around for a while. So, he kept pushing himself. Just one more step.
Tess kept her eyes fixed on the front door, which she had left open as wide as it would go. Never had a few steps seemed like such a vast distance. She was sure that at any moment his labored breathing would stop, and she would be dragging a corpse, and not a man.
"Almost there, Tal, you're doing great," she said, immensely relieved as they crossed the threshold.
Tal's feet caught as the crossed over the threshold and they both nearly fell. She was surprised by how much he weighed. He was not as tall as her father, and she remembered helping her father around before he, too, had gotten ill and passed away. Yet, this clone felt a lot heavier.
"You are one heavy soldier," Tess said, as they approached the bed she had set up before the hearth.
"Sorry," Tal gasped out.
Tess did finally take a moment to look at him, completely startled to hear his voice. She didn't expect him to still be able to speak. He looked back at her, making eye contact, his eyes searching her face.
Tess took a brief moment to study him as well. He looked awful. His complexion was completely grey, except for his lips, which had started to turn blue.
"Just keep breathing, OK?" Tess said, maneuvering him the last couple of steps to the bed.
Tess turned her head to look back at him, expecting some kind of sarcastic response. She'd only known him an hour, yet she already felt like she knew some of his personality quirks. Was it her imagination, or was his labored breathing growing louder? Tess focused on getting him to the bed. They made it the final few steps, with Tess' ears completely focused on listening to his breathing.
Tess meant to lower him gently, but it didn't work out that way. Tess didn't think she dropped him. It was more that Tal had finally completely reached the end of his tether and just collapsed, dragging her with him. They fell onto the bed together. Tess was completely pinned under Tal. She could still hear him struggling painfully for air, so she knew there was still life in him. She was afraid to push on him, for fear of injuring him further.
"Tal?... Tal? You gotta' move. I'm stuck underneath you."
There was no response, except for Tal's labored breathing.
"Tal? I don't want to hurt you. Can you move a little, so I can get out of here?"
Still no response. Tess sighed. She hated to do it, but didn't see another way around it. Her arms were pinned, so she just had to wiggle her way free. She shifted her body, and started to squirm out from underneath Tal. As she moved, she heard him gasp in pain.
"I'm so sorry, Tal. I need to get out from under here so I can help you. Can you move?"
He didn't move at all, but Tess could sense he was still conscious.
"Tal!" Tess shouted.
Tess saw Tal brace himself first on one hand, and then tried to use his other hand. He cried out in pain when he tried to use one of his hands. But, then he forced himself to use it anyway. He rolled himself off of Tess, and right onto the blaster wound on his back.
He cried out again, grabbing at his ribs with one hand, while another hand reached back toward the blaster wound.
Tal's eyes were tightly squeezed shut, and his hands clenched and unclenched as he tried to make it through the pain. He also gasped for air. Tess saw tears eke out through his tightly closed eyelids. Knowing how much he was suffering brought tears to Tess' eyes. Toward the end, before her Mom died, it had been really bad, like this... constant suffering... No! Don't think about that now!
Tess jumped up, and knelt down by his side.
"Tal, I know you're in terrible pain. I'm going to treat your wounds, OK? Just hang on."
"Not- the - pain. - Hard - to - breathe," Tal gasped out, wheezing for air.
Tess noticed the blueness in his lips was spreading. As much pain as he was in, it wasn't the pain that was his foremost concern. Something about his chest injury was preventing him from breathing properly. If Tess didn't figure out what it was, she knew she'd have a dead, suffocated soldier in her living room.
Tess ran into her parents' bedroom. She usually avoided this room. Even now, she still felt the presence of her parents in the room - it made their absence all the more painful. The room was unused, and undisturbed, for the most part. Tess just used it to store all the myriad of medical equipment they'd accumulated during her Mom's long illness. After her Mom died, and then not too long after, her Dad, Tess had just pushed all the equipment into their room and closed the door. She'd never been able to bring herself to sort out their clothes, or give their possessions away. Their room remained an undisturbed temple of sorts to the two people who'd meant the most in Tess' life.
Tess felt strange, even now, entering the room. She felt her parents' presence strongly as she entered the room. It was exactly as they'd left it, except for all the dust, and the unruly collection of medical equipment dumped in there from every corner of the house. Tess pushed aside a bunch of dusty equipment until she found what she was looking for.
She powered up the medical droid.
"One-One-Two-One-bee, at your serv-. How can I - you?"
Oh, yes, the speech defect. Tess had almost forgotten about that. The droid had a faulty voice modulator, so they'd gotten it a discount. Her father said he could fix it, but had never quite gotten around to it. Communicating with this particular droid was always a bit... uh, challenging.
"One-one, we have a patient. Breathing difficulties. Suspect multiple broken ribs. Likely punctured lung. Blaster wound to back. Possible head trauma. Condition serious. Very, very serious. Like going to be dead soon, serious. Got it?"
"Understood. -ake me to -he patient."
Tess grabbed the handheld medical scanner on her way out of the room. She blew dust off of it.
Tess pushed aside more equipment so One-One could easily get through to the main room. She coughed as she disturbed more dust.
"Tess. Diagnosis: Coughing due to - airborne floating particles. remedy - clean more -. Recomm- cleaning schedule -"
"Enough! I'm not the patient! I'll clean this room another day! See to the real patient, please. This way."
Tess led One One to Tal's side.
"Tal, this is One One Two One Bee. One One, met Tal, a clone trooper with the Republic Army. He's had a tough day and could use a bit of patching up."
"Hello Tal, - ooper of the Repub- -. How did your injuries occ-?"
Tal glanced up at Tess.
Tess knelt down and quickly whispered in Tal's air, "One One has a bit of a speech impediment. He is sensitive about it, so we don't mention it. He thinks my Dad fixed it already, but Father- " Tess stopped herself.
Tal gave her a curious look.
"Well, just ignore it. I'll try to fix it later, OK?" said Tess.
Tal gave a slight nod, and then winced.
"-rooper -al, -ow -id your injuries occur?" One One repeated.
Tess rolled her eyes, noticing that One One's speech vocabulator had settled itself into a new glitchy pattern.
Tal eyed One One through barely opened eyes.
"Fell - from - a - gunship," Tal gestured weakly with one hand, pointing upwards.
Tess gasped at this new revelation.
Tess' eyes widened, "While it was flying?"
Tal looked over at Tess, making eye contact with her.
"Was - shot - out."
Tal met her gaze evenly. He didn't ask for any pity, and his gaze didn't even convey any anger. If anything, he had this look of almost hopeless resignation as he struggled to breathe, and explained what happened. All of Tal's injuries made sense now, as did the crushed trooper beneath him. Tess involuntarily shivered at the thought of a fall like that. She reached out and gripped Tal's hand.
"I'm sorry," she said, giving him a little squeeze.
"Hand?" Tess asked.
Tal gave a slight nod, and then grimaced at that movement.
"May I remove your armor?" Tess asked.
Tal gave another small nod. Tess assisted One One in removing the chest plates, so the droid could get started on treating the chest injury. One One was in the process of running scans, muttering to himself. One One extended another set of arms and deftly began removing Tal's black, upper bodysuit. Tess removed the armor over his hand, and gingerly peeled off the glove. His hand was swollen and red, with distinctive yellow and black bruising. Tess didn't need the scanner to tell her it was broken, but she ran the scans anyway.
"It doesn't look so bad," she said reassuringly to Tal, trying to sound cheerful, "you've got some broken bones in your hand, but they're all clean fractures. It will heal beautifully."
Tal's eyes had drifted shut and he didn't acknowledge her comment at all. Tess rummaged around in the first aid kit until she found fracture wrap. She removed the special material from its' foil seal to activate it, then carefully wrapped it around Tal's hand, wrist and lower forearm. The material conformed to Tal's arm, and dried almost immediately.
Tess leaned back to admire her handywork, "OK, you'll be good as new in no time at all."
Tal remained unresponsive. One One had succeeded in completely baring the Trooper's upper chest. Tess's heart sank as she stared at his chest. One side of his chest looked sunken in as compared to the other side.
"-onfirmed punctured lung. Recommend -mmediatiate -surgery," stated One One.
"What about the blaster wound on his back" Tess asked.
"-atient - in respiratory distress. First priority."
Tess sighed heavily. She'd almost forgotten just how frustrating it was to try to communicate with One One.
"Yes, of course," Tess said, realizing that frustrating or not, the medical droid was right. Tess knelt down by Tal's head, not sure if he was still conscious or not. On instinct, she reached a hand out and gently stroked his wavy dark hair. Despite some blood and dirt matted into his hair, his hair felt silky soft under her fingertips.
"Hey, you've got a punctured lung. We'll have to do a little surgery to fix. All you need to do is relax, and the medical droid with the speech impediment will fix you right up, OK?"
Tal gave a barely imperceptible nod, his eyes still closed. On a whim, Tess leaned down and kissed his forehead. Tal opened his eyes in surprise.
Tess jumped back, embarrassed by her spontaneous gesture, refusing to make eye contact with Tal. When she finally got the courage up to look at the handsome injured warrior, his eyes had closed again.
"One One, what do you need?" Tess said, recovering from her embarrassment. Tess retrieved a small datapad out of her pocket. One One began rattling off a list of materials, and Tess wrote them all down. Her fingers flew over the tiny keyboard of her datapad. The datapad was smaller than the average datapad, but she could still type on it very quickly. The device had been customized by her Dad, one of his many electronic creations.
"Got it!" she said, tucking the compact datapad into her pocket, and hurrying back to the storeroom. She hoped she still had everything One One needed. She'd stopped stockpiling medical stuff after both her parents passed away. With only herself to care for now, there just didn't seem a need for that kind of be told, she hadn't had all that much interest in taking care of herself now that her parents were dead. Who would take care of her anyway, if something major happened? Tess had figured if something majored happened, she would let nature take its' course and just join her parents.
She quickly shoved and pushed things around in the storeroom, looking for everything One One had requested. Well, she didn't have full bottles of the different antiseptics he needed, but she had partial bottles. They would have to do. She found a couple sharps of painkillers, and a few bottles of oral analgesics. She wasn't sure if they were expired or not. But, they would have to do, because it was all she had. There were plenty of bandages and bacta in the first aid kit, and One One had built in surgical implements. They'd just have to improvise with what they had.
But, I guess it still beats the alternative.
Tess shuddered as she thought of the droids methodically going through the battlefield, shooting every fallen clone. Tess pictured the clones walking up to where Tal was lying, unable to move because of his injuries, and assassinating him in cold blood. Tess shivered, wondering how she could be so unsettled about the fate of somebody she'd just met.
Tess walked back out to One One, arms completely loaded up with supplies. She pushed a small sidetable closer to the bed, so that One One would have easy access to everything he needed as he worked. Tess pulled up a stepstool, out of the medical droid's way, sitting on the opposite side of Tal.
"OK, I'm just going to sit here, and watch then. I won't get in the way," Tess said, pulling up a stepstool on the opposite side from where One One was positioned.
She studied Tal, and then thought of all the others back on the battlefield. Try as she might, she couldn't get the sound of the droids shooting the fallen clones out of her head.
It's just not right, Tess thought, shaking her head sadly. Tess began to absently-mindedly stroke Tal's cheek as she thought about the war.
She sensed someone looking up at her. Tal's eyes were open, and he was studying her with a bemused expression on his face. It seemed he didn't know what to think of all her attentions. Tess' hand froze where it was, in mid-stroke, on his face.
"Sorry!" she said, quickly removing her hand, and shoving it into one of her pockets.
Tal's mouth quirked into a slight smile, and then his eyes drifted shut.
"Tal? " Tess said quietly, feeling she had to whisper for some reason.
"Patient -as lost consciousness, " said One One, "preparations -omplete for sugical procedure."
Tess watched as One One injected Tal in the neck. One One began to methodically clean the area on Tal's chest where he was going to cut in.
"- ing procedure," said One One, extended out one of his surgical arms to cut down into Tal's chest.
Having grown up on a farm, Tess was comfortable around the sight of blood. So, she wasn't sure why it bothered her to see the droid cut into Tal.
"You're sure he can't feel that?" Tess asked, watching Tal's face nervously, worried he would wake up screaming. She could still hear the echoes of the dying clones on the battlefield. She remembered Tal's own cries of pain as she lifted him in and out of the speeder.
Watching the surgery gave her a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Yet, she didn't feel she could leave either. There were times when it seemed One One would run out of hands as he worked quickly to repair the damage caused by multiple ribs breaking at once.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Tess finally ventured.
"Bathe," One One said simply.
Tess looked down at her dust covered tunic.
"Fierfek!" Tess declared, feeling stupid.
She didn't know why she hadn't realized sooner that her clothing, grimy from the battlefield, and even filthier now with smatterings of dust from her parents' room, presented a hazard in a sterile surgical area. With a final regretful glance back at Tal, Tess hurried into her room. She quickly stripped down, throwing all her clothes into an untidy pile. She didn't care about neatness at the moment. She just wanted to get back to Tal, as soon as possible. She took a very rushed shower, scrubbing herself down as thoroughly as possible. She paid extra attention to scrubbing down her arms and hands. She dried off as quickly as possible, and threw on the first clean tunic and pants she could find. Hair still dripping wet, she hurried back to her perch by Tal's side.
"Did I miss anything?" she asked, breathless from her super-fast shower.
"-y done," said One One.
Tess looked anxiously down at Tal. One One had placed an oxygen mask over Tal's nose and mouth.
"Hey, you look better already," Tess said to Tal, even though she knew he couldn't hear her. But, Not having an audience had never stopped her from talking to herself before.
"Broken -ibs repaired. Lung -s repaired," One One announced, beginning the process of closing up the long incision. He quickly and efficiently sealed up the incision.
Tess breathed a sigh of relief. Tal's coloring was already better. His complexion was returning to a normal color again, and his lips were no longer blue. His pained breathing settled into a normal rhythm again.
"Great work, One One!" Tess said.
One One kept a sensor hand extended over Tal's chest, taking readings.
"Procedure was succes-. Proceeding - other injur-."
One One ran the scanner slowly over Tal's blaster wound, and then back over his ribs again.
"Patient still - multiple fractures - severe burn - - region - back."
"Yes, yes, I know, One One. Which are you going to treat first? The other broken ribs, or the back wound?"
One One paused, calculating.
That's not a good sign, Tess thought. One One usually responds immediately.
"Difficult - treat. Multiple injuries- close proximity. Possibility - unfavor- outcome of treatm-."
"What kind of unfavorable outcome if you treat him?" Tess asked, accustomed to One One's disjointed speech. Although, now that she actually had a need for the droid, spending some time, and/or money fixing his vocabulator seemed like a good idea.
"Patient - not lie - stomach due - lung surgery. - treat back - ."
"What if we prop him on his side? It will probably feel hellish on his ribs, but he's knocked out right now anyway. At least he won't be lying directly on his lungs, and then you can reach his back. I can get pillows to keep him propped up on one side, and you can work on him on the other side."
One One paused, considering.
"Yes, - idea. Let's proceed."
Tess hopped up, and rushed to her bedroom to grab all the pillows off her bed. She had plenty of pillows, for which she was thankful, as this meant she didn't have to grab any dusty ones off her parents' bed. No one had slept on that bed since her Dad had died, and she hadn't touched or disturbed the bed since then. During her Mom's long illness, Tess had often propped her Mom this way, or that, to prevent bedsores. Tess was an expert with pillows, and bed propping.
Tess stacked the pillows on top of her stool.
"OK, One One, let's roll him toward me, so his back is facing toward you."
Together, Tess and One One rolled Tal, being careful not to tangle the cord supplying oxygen to his mask. Even though he was unconscious, Tal still moaned when they shifted him onto his side.
"Sorry," Tess whispered to him.
She grabbed pillows, and began expertly inserting them in place.
"OK," she said, letting go.
"OK," echoed back One One.
Tess nodded, glad that One One approved. After her Dad died, Tess had actually left One One activated for a few days just for someone to talk to. It was pretty lame excuse for company, particularly with One One's worn-out vocabulator, but it was all Tess had. Tess was too mentally worn out to even think of doing something productive, like doing repairs on the droid.
She just talked to the droid sometimes, asking vague hypothetical questions, like: "Do you think Dad is happier where he is now? He's not in pain anymore, right?"
One One would typically respond with something totally clinical: "Patient 'Dad' - no pain response. Verified."
Tess had heard the Two One Bee's were a great deal more dynamic than the surplus 20+ year old medical droid that her Dad had purchased in a second-hand store. But, One One was all her family could afford, and, in a way, Tess thought of the quirky, imperfect droid as family.
Tess moved her stepstool around to the other side of the bed so she could see what One One was doing. She sat back several paces, so as to not get in the way.
One One scanned the wound carefully.
Tess gazed at the blaster wound, thinking of how Tal had acquired it. She wondered what that must have been like, being shot right out of a gunship. Somehow, being shot right in the back seemed like the ultimate insult. Tal had almost been safely away from the battle. Just one last unlucky shot, and suddenly everything had changed for him.
And, for the unlucky clone who fell with him. Tess shuddered as she thought of the bloody clone she'd seen lying underneath Tal.
Tal's back armor had been completely destroyed, melted away from the blast. The strap from his DC-15 had actually melted into one of the plastoid armor plates. He had a deep burn mark extending all the way down from one shoulder blade, down to the middle of one buttock. If the shot had been just a little more to the center, it would have severed his spinal cord. As it was, he had to contend with the pain of a very deep burn that ran the entire length of his back. It had gone through the skin, and right down into the muscle. One One began methodically cleaning the wound, trimming away ragged edges, and packing it with bacta gel. It took a long time to clean the entire wound.
Tess cringed just looking at the back wound. Since her father had acted as a healer to the local population, Tess had seen blaster wounds before. Normally, the wounds tended to be more localized, and deeper. Because Tal was accelerating rapidly when he was hit, the blaster mark stretched for a long way, but had not punctured deeply. Still, it had completely burned away the skin in all the areas it had hit, and also burned some of the muscle underneath. Tess could only imagine it had been a very painful injury to sustain, and would be painful during the recovery process. One One selected several bandages, and begin to measure them out, carefully snipping and trimming. One One was a rather finicky droid overall, and was fussy about measurements being perfect.
One One began bandaging Tal, starting with shoulder area, carefully covering the top-most area of the back. One One then took some more precise measurements and began working his way down the back, critically examining his work at every stage. For One One, it wasn't just a bandaging job, it was a work of art.
Tess got up to get her hairbrush, knowing that things were going to take a while. One One was a competent medical droid, but speed was not one of his strong suits. Tess stood in the doorway of her room, brushing out her hair, and watching One One work. Standing half in her room, and half in the main room, it now struck Tess as strange that there was someone else in her house.
It had been almost a year since her Dad had died, and Tess was getting accustomed to the long silences and constant loneliness. With One One muttering away, and Tal lying on the bed in front of the heart, the house seemed much less empty all of a sudden.
Tess wondered if she was insane to drag home a complete stranger - a soldier. A clone soldier. A critically injured clone soldier.
What was she going to do with him if he died? Just bury him out back next to the barn? No, that seemed so wrong. Bury him in the family grave plot, next to Mama and Papa? Well, no, that seemed rather weird, too. She knew nothing about this clone, other than his name, and that he was rather funny, and that he fell out of a ship.
The practical thing, I guess, would be to return him to where I found him and just place him back on the batttlefield with the other clones. No one would know I'd ever taken him here.
But, that seems so wrong, too.
Somehow, the thought of taking his lifeless body, and just dumping it back out onto the battlefield made Tess's stomach turn.
Tess tossed her hairbrush so that it landed back on her dresssing table, and resumed her seat next to One One.
Well, he's just going to have to not die, she decided.
One One had finished wrapping all his burns. On the mid-back, and lower back, One One added an additional layer of stiffer bandages to provide support for the broken ribs as they healed.
"I -ave finished treatment of his -ack -ounds. Proceeding to head and hand - mination."
"OK, One One, good job on the back wound. Thanks," Tess said, "I wrapped the hand. But, you can double-check my work."
One One didn't comment, and proceeded to run a scanner over Tal's head first.
"-atient -al has a concussion. No signs -f brain -welling."
Tess breathed a sign of relief. His helmet appeared to have saved his head, even if it did get destroyed in the process.
Tess sat up straight, puzzled.
If Tal was a clone, did he 'belong' to somebody? Clones were not 'citizens.' They were not like regular people. They were, well, clones. So, who did Tal belong to? Was Tess breaking some kind of law by keeping Tal with her?
Tess leaned down to pick up a piece of Tal's armor, and studied the inside of it. Printed on the inside of each piece, near the magnetic locking piece of the gription plate, a block stamp said: "Property of Grand Army of the Republic." In tiny letters, almost too small to read, it said: "It is a violation of E.O.A. 1136 for unauthorized persons to possess, or utilize, these materials without express, authorized permission of GAR authorities."
Was Tal also considered "Property of Grand Army of the Republic?"
One One had finished his examination of Tal's head, and was now critically examining the fracture cast Tess had put on Tal's hand. Tess was good at casting, having developed a knack for breaking bones. When she was younger, her Dad used to handle the casting, but as she got older, her Dad made sure she learned the skill. She was glad of it now, even though at the time she'd resented it. She didn't know why her Dad couldn't just handle these things for her.
Tess studied Tal, lying still and unconscious on the bed. He didn't look like property. He looked like a man, about the same age that she was. What difference did it make if he was a clone?
Tess thought again to all the other clones she'd left behind on the battlefield, at the mercy of the droid killing squads. Her stomach twisted in knots, and she suddenly wished she'd taken the time to save more of the clones, rather than scavenging for weapons. Why hadn't she seen this before? Why hadn't she taken the time before to think of what lay underneath the helmets of the clone soldiers? This small contingent of soldiers had been stationed on her planet for several months now, waging a seemingly endless battle against their mechanical adversaries.
She had done her best to largely ignore the battle between the GAR and the Separatists, hoping they would all just go away. She felt she had enough misery, just trying to keep her farm from failing, and keep Dirk away. But, while she had been turning a blind eye to the situation, young men like Tal were being cut down by pre-programmed killing machines. Tess felt deeply ashamed that she had not taken the time to see what was directly in front of her this whole time.
"I'm sorry, Tal," she said out loud. "I'm sorry to you, and all of the others."
One One swiveled its' domed head to regard Tess.
"-atient -al is not conscious, Tess."
"Yes, thank you, One One," Tess said with a sigh.
One One finished his critical examination of Tal's hand, apparently satisfied with Tess's work.
"This – adequate. - -atient Tal –eatment is -omplete," said One One.
Tess stood up and stretched, "-ell, -atient -al and I, tank you," she quipped.
One One gave a disgruntled beep, "-lar, are -ou experiencing -roblems with your vocabulator?"
Tess laughed, having forgotten for the moment that One One was under the impression his vocabulator had been fixed long ago.
"Uh, no, I'm fine, just a little tired."
One One immediately began running scans of Tess.
"No, that's not what I meant," Tess said, stepping backwards to ward off One One's ministrations. "Stay here with Ooper Al, uh, er, Trooper Tal. I'm going to make myself some tea."
Tess headed to the kitchen to rustle up something to eat, laughing under her breath at yet another one of her Dad's quirky electronic devices. One of these days she was going to figure out how to get them all working properly.
Dad would like that.
Tess set some water to boil and looked outside the small window over the sink. The sun was already going down.
"Uggh, I am so behind on work today," Tess mumbled, thinking of all the regular farm chores she had completely ignored today. She grabbed a piece of fruit out of the basket next to the sink, and started munching on it while the water boiled. As soon as she started to eat something, she realized how hungry she was. It was past dinnertime, and she'd been awake since before dawn. Other than some tea and fruit, she hadn't eaten all day. She grabbed out a second piece of fruit to eat as soon as the first was done. She quickly demolished the two pieces of fruit. She finished preparing her tea, and then rustled around the pantry for something else to eat. The pickings were pretty slim. She settled for some nuts, dried fruit and crackers to go with the tea and fruit she was already eating. If she had more time, she could prepare something a little more substantial, but there was too much work that needed to be done.
As usual, she briefly fantasized about having better meals, like when both her parents were still alive. With the three of them working together, there was more food in the pantry, and more people to help prepare the meals. These days, her meals were dull, monotonous, and eaten alone. Tess quickly finished a fruit and nut cracker sandwich, and then headed out to the barn to finish the chores she had neglected all day.
She worked in the barn as quickly as she could. It was the fastest she'd completed her chores in a long time. Normally, she didn't much care how long the tasks took. But, today, she was especially eager to get everything done. By the time she returned to the house, it was completely dark and the outside temperature had dropped. She was glad to return to the light and warmth of the main room. But, mostly, she was anxious to check on the welfare of a man she hadn't even known existed when she woke up that morning. One One kept a silent vigil by Tal's side, one sensor arm extended over Tal to constantly monitor life sign readings.
"How's he doing?" Tess asked, as she sat down to unlace her boots by the front door, rubbing her hands together to get warmth back into them.
"-ooper -al is stable," said One One.
"That's good. Thanks. Good work, as always," Tess finished taking off her outside work clothes, placing her boots neatly side-by-side, and hanging up her coat on a peg by the front door. At one time her parents' coats had hung side-by-side with hers, but now her coat hung all alone. Tess hung her coat on the far right peg, in its' usual place, leaving the other pegs empty.
"Stable is good," said Tess, walking across the room, and resuming her seat on the stool.
Better than I expected, actually, considering his injuries. Ooper Al must be a resilient man, Tess thought as she regarded him,humoring herself at One One's expense.
After another half hour of sitting, Tess found that her butt was sore from sitting on the hard wooden stool and her eyes were beginning to droop.
She stood, and put the stool back in its' place. She spent a considerable amount of time and effort pushing, pulling and dragging her Dad's worn, comfortable recliner into a position next to the bed.
"OK, that was a lot harder than I thought it would be," she said aloud, to no one in particular. After several years of being on her own now, she was used to having conversations with just the surrounding air. Loneliness had been her companion for quite a while now. Well, loneliness, along with hard work, poverty, and fear.
She went and brushed her teeth, grabbed a blanket and a pillow off of her bed, and settled into the comfortable chair. Within minutes, she was asleep.
# # #
Everyday for the next week, One One monitored Tal's vitals constantly while Tess rushed through her duties of taking care of the farm. She spent every spare moment sitting by the clone troopers' bedside, talking to him, even singing to him sometimes. She liked to sing, and hadn't had anyone to sing to since her parents died. He did not awaken at all during those first several days. Tess felt if she abandoned her vigil, he would die, leaving her all alone once again.
Tess would watch him sleep, the oxygen mask strapped over his dusky, exotic features. Her isolated farm upbringing had afforded her little actual outside contact with people different from herself. There was something deliciously different and exotic about Tal. In truth, the physical appearance of this injured clone was absolutely fascinating to Tess.
Tess had taken to spending all her free time curled up in her father's chair, sipping her tea, and just studying this man. The clone was still propped up on his side, since his injuries prevented him from lying comfortably either on his back or front. His body position faced him toward the kitchen. By the third day, Tess noticed him wakening for brief periods of time. His eyes would flutter open, briefly track her movements, and then flutter back closed again. One One kept the oxygen mask on the trooper as long as they could. By the sixth day, they'd run out of oxygen. They'd only had a canister and a half to start with, so it was now depleted. One One seemed unconcerned by the supply shortage, announcing in his halting, choppy speech that the trooper was of the danger zone. The oxygen mask was removed, and Tess put the whole set-up back into storage with the rest of the little used medical gear.
Nearly a week had passed since Tess had dragged the stranger home. Tess could see he was starting to awaken for slightly longer periods of time. Her movements in the kitchen seemed to attract his attention the most - perhaps it was the sounds of metallic spoons scraping against metallic pots, or banging against their old metallic sink. Most everything they had was made of metal - forged and shaped by her father, a brilliant man talented with both metal and electronics - but, with the bad fortune to be borne and stuck on a backwater planet at the edge of nowhere in the Outer Rim.
Tess would see the trooper's eyes tracking her movements through hooded, half-open lids. His body didn't move at all. He hadn't moved since One One had completed the lung repair surgery. Tess suspected One One was keeping him heavily sedated until the lung was sufficiently healed, but she hadn't questioned the droid on the specifics.
Even though Tess hadn't found a lot of painkillers in her medical stash, sedatives were in ample supply. Her Mom's illness had been long and painful, slowly wasting away her muscles. The sedatives had helped to some degree, especially in those last few months.
Tess hadn't been sure if the medications were still good, but One One had tested them, and declared them still usable.
Once One One had announced that the clone was out of the danger zone, Tess felt confident enough to leave him alone for longer periods of time. She felt assured enough he would still be alive when she returned to the farm house. She put on her extra warm coat, gathered up the two guns she had gathered during the battle, (she considered the third as still belonging to the clone), and left in the speeder.
She didn't return until it was almost dark. She noticed the clone's eyes tracking her movements when she returned. When she made eye contact with him, there was a question in his gaze. She gazed back into those eyes, lost in them for the moment.
He tilted his head slightly, asking the question again. Tess shook her head to clear it, pulling herself back to the moment. He had noticed her absence. He wanted to know where she had been for so long. Tess decided to just dodge the question. Tess gave him a warm, reassuring smile. She quickly pulled off her boots, walked over, and sat by his side, still wearing her heavy coat. He cocked his head slightly, taking in her heavy coat, the questioning look still in his eyes.
One One had said Tal might not remember anything that happened the day of the surgery, including her, due to the severe trauma his body had undergone. Tess took his good hand in hers, and gave it a comforting squeeze. She turned to One One.
"How is he?"
"-ooper -al is stable. -e continues to improve."
Tess smiled at Tal. He met her gaze steadily, looking at her curiously.
"Can he have food and water?"
"-omorrow, if he -ontinues to improve."
Tess looked at Tal again, "Hey, now that's good news. Much as I'm sure you are enjoying these great saline drip bags, I'll bet you are starving. I'll get a pot of broth started."
She gave his hand one last little squeeze, and then got up to hang up her coat. She never answered his question about where she was, and she didn't intend to either.
# # #
Tal was exhausted. He was starving. He was burning up with thirst. He had no idea where he was.
This was definitely not a clone medical facility. However, it did not seem to be a Separatist prison facility either. As near as he could figure, he was still on Kali. But, where? And, where was the rest of his squadron?
Where were all his brothers? Surely they hadn't left him behind?
Tal had never spent any amount of time away from clone brothers. Why weren't they here now, taking care of him, telling him what was going on? Or, yelling at him to get his lazy shebs [backside] out of bed, and get back to work?
Tal found it increasingly disturbing to be completely cut off from other clones. He didn't have his helmet, so he couldn't access data with a blink of his eyes. As he started staying awake for longer stretches of time, he really started to feel the absence of his helmet. He'd never spent this much time away from his bucket before. It was disorientating not to have a constant data stream, and continual communications, available to him at all times.
Tal tried to squelch his growing sense of panic. And, just what was the deal with this crazy droid? The droid would talk to him, and Tal thought at first he'd blown an ear drum from being too close to a grenade. It had happened to him the previous year on, well, Tal couldn't remember the kriffin' planet at the moment. But, the point was, he knew what temporary hearing loss sounded like. But, he realized now he could hear the woman just fine. It was the droid who had the problem. How reassuring. His medical care depended upon a second-rate medical droid. First, there aren't enough clone doctors, so they are replaced with a bunch of tinnies. Great. You get shot by tinnies, and then you get fixed by tinnies. But, now, you get shot by tinnies, and you get fixed up by second-rate, half-functioning tinnies?
And, the woman...
Who was she?
Tal had never spent much time around human females before. The past few days were just a hazy blur, but, he could remember now hearing this woman's voice talking to him, and even singing to him.
Why was she singing to him? Other than singing "Vode An" with his brothers, Tal hadn't been around much live singing. He never had any leave on Coruscant like some other troopers. He'd spent all of the past three years in the Outer freaking Rim. Singing? No, no one had ever sang to him before. Ever. It was... unsettling.
He also remembered her holding his hand. Why would she do that? What purpose did that serve? It's possible one could take vital signs by holding the wrist in an upturned manner, but this is not how she had held his hand. None of these behaviors fit into scenarios Tal had been taught in his flash training. The behaviors also did not fit into his subsequent experiences on the battlefields of the Outer Rim over the past three years. He was confused.
And, he hurt. He hurt a lot in many different places. His entire chest ached. His lungs ached every time he sucked in a breath. He was sure he had either broken bones, or surgery, possibly both. It was the only thing that causes a deep burning internal pain like this. His throat was so dry that he knew he couldn't even attempt to speak. He felt he would surely choke if he did. His back burned, yet felt itchy and raw at the same time. It must be a blaster burn, healing under bacta. Only bacta could itch like this as it regenerated skin and muscle. His hand ached in several places with the same sort of internal pain that spoke of more fractures. And, his head throbbed if he tried to move it. Tal was miserable.
When a brother was injured like this, his other brothers were supposed to defend him and take care of everything. It was the code of honor amongst brothers.
Tal squeezed his eyes shut, trying to remember recall how he'd gotten injured and ended up in this strange place. But, everything was so muddled and confusing at the moment. Tal was trying not to panic, but he had no control over his surroundings, and no way to gain control. Tal sighed, and then regretted it, because the deeper breath increased the ache in his lungs.
Judging by his surroundings, Tal believed he was in the home of a private civilian. But, why? It wasn't unheard of for a Republic soldier to be given shelter by Republic citizens, especially in emergency situations. But, it wasn't all that common, either. Tal had very little contact with civvies, and he'd never spent any significant amount of time in a civvie dwelling. Everytime he'd been injured before, he'd automatically been taken to a Republican medical facility.
Tal heard the now familiar sounds of the woman in her kitchen. Tal opened his eyes, and tracked the woman's movements. He watched her move about her kitchen, preparing her usual cup of tea. The woman drank a lot of tea. The thought made Tal feel even thirstier. He would give anything right now for a sip of just about anything. He watched as she pulled out a large pot, and pulled together some ingredients. She began to grate and chop, adding things to the pot. She hummed as she worked.
Tal had to admit that her singing was starting to grow on him. It was a pleasant sound. And, the woman, well, she was pleasant to observe as she went about her food preparation detail. Her facial features were nicely formed, and her body was... well, curvy in all the right places. Tal had to admit that watching the woman was the only bright spot in this confusing, pain-filled existence. He found it strangely pleasant to watch her work.
He drifted off to sleep again.
# # #
He awoke to a pleasant smell that made his stomach growl impatiently. He looked around. He was alone with the medical droid again. He sighed, and then squeezed his eyes shut at the ache in his chest. He'd had to remember to stop sighing. He never realized before how often he did that. Perhaps sighing was just a natural clone thing. But, the droid annoyed him. I guess it was only natural that he didn't enjoy spending time around droids. Droids had killed everyone he ever cared about. Yet, Tal had to admit he greatly preferred the company of the woman, even if she did seem to be withholding some sort of information from him.
Tal waited, and waited for the woman to show up. He'd been promised something to eat, and he was starving.
He was also fantasizing about finally getting some liquid for his parched throat. He could probably ask the medical droid, but somehow he didn't want this faulty medical droid pouring liquids down his throat. He pictured half of it ending up all over his face, or worse, getting poured down his throat too quickly and ending up in his half-healed lungs. No, he'd wait for the woman. Where was she? Tal tried to sleep, not having anything else to do. He napped on and off, throughout the day. But, for much of the day, he just stared at the ceiling, counting the ceiling beams again and again.
Osik! [Mando'a expletive of frustration] He was bored! She finally showed up, just as darkness was starting to fall. She was wearing her heavy coat again, and mud covered her boots. She looked exhausted. Tal couldn't resist speaking out any longer, painful, parched throat or not. He was fed up, and he wanted answers.
"Wh- wh- wher- ," his first attempt at speaking ended up in a coughing fit as his parched throat contracted painfully. Tal's eyes teared up with pain as the coughing brought up fresh spasms of pain in his broken ribs. The woman was instantly by his side, a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Shh- shhh, take it easy," she said, in soothing tones, gently rubbing his shoulders.
She looked at the medical droid, who was taking readings, but had not sought to offer any kind of comfort.
"One One, can I give him water?"
She smiled at Tal, and rushed away to the kitchen, returning in just a moment with lukewarm water in a chipped mug.
Tess sat down on the edge of the bed, and lifted his head into her lap. He was still lying on his side. Tess brought the mug to his lips. Tal noticed her earthen aroma again. No one had ever mentioned to him before that females smelled like this. He was sure he would have remembered if someone did.
"Take it slow," the woman said, as she cradled his head to her chest, helping him drink the glass of water, "I'm sure you're very thirsty, but just small sips for now, OK?"
Tal eagerly took a few small sips, sighing in satisfaction as the burning in his throat finally eased. Then, groaning slightly as the sighing made his ribs ache. The woman looked down at him in concern.
"Are you OK?"
Tal nodded. The movement caused his head to brush up against her breast. The woman seemed not to notice. She gently laid Tal's head back down on the pillow, and placed the glass of water on the table next to the bed.
"I'll get you some broth, OK?" she said.
Tal nodded. His stomach growled in anticipation. He flushed, embarrassed. She laughed. Tal liked the sound of her laughter. She stood up. She walked back over the door and removed her coat. Tal closed his eyes for a moment, immensely relieved that his throat didn't feel so parched anymore. His traitorous mind jumped from those thoughts to reliving the sensation of nodding his head up against her breast.
You idiot! he scolded himself, she was just helping you get a drink of water!
Still, Tal had never had any close contact with human females before, so all these sensations were entirely new to him. He couldn't help but be intrigued by them. And, hidden beneath her simple farm clothing, Tal could tell Tess was an attractive woman. Attractive with very nicely shaped...
Tal tore his mind away from its current line of thinking and focused on what the woman was doing now. Food. OK, food. A safe topic. He watched her ladle into a bowl from a well-worn pot that had been simmering on the stove all day. She placed the bowl onto the counter.
She put the soup down on the side table. She tucked the towel underneath his chin. She then lifted his head, cradling him against her chest, as she had done for the glass of water. She spooned the first bite of broth into his mouth. Tal wanted to protest, saying he didn't need to be spoon-fed. Being helped by a brother in the medbay was one thing - brothers had a code of honor. Brothers always helped out other brothers. Having anyone else perform this sort of duty for you, well, it was most unsettling for Tal. And, being taken care of day and night by a woman that he had to admit he was finding increasingly attractive? Just the thought of it made Tal feel weird in ways he didn't know were possible. But, the moment the first bite of food hit his system, all protests were gone. He didn't care anymore about anything except getting food into his system. He realized he was not only hungry, he was ravenously hungry. He didn't care how, or by whom, that food was getting into his system. He just wanted, and needed, food. She was, in fact, competent in the performance of all these duties, and Tal definitely preferred her company to that of the droid.
"That's it. You finished the whole bowl," she said, delicately cleaning his lips with a soft towel.
Tal looked up at her, and cocked his head, thinking two things at once. She was very pretty this close-up, and he wanted more food, NOW. Just like most every clone he knew, Tal had a ravenous appetite. His buddy, Cooper, a medic, had theorized their constant need for food came from their rapid aging. They burned through food faster since they were aging faster, like a timepiece that was wound up. He also thought clones had higher metabolisms' than non-clones (mongrels), since clones had superior strength, endurance, reflex time, etc.
Tal felt that same stabbing emotional pang when he thought of Cooper. Cooper was listed as Missing in Action, since nobody had seen him actually get hit. But, the moment they'd lifted off from that planet, nobody could reach him by radio either. And, they had withdrawn from the planet so quickly there'd been no time to go back and look for Cooper. Thinking about it still pained Tal. They'd left Cooper behind.
"Hey, are you OK?" Tess was looking at him, giving him that concerned look again. It caught Tal off-guard. The only person who had ever cared watched out for him was Cooper. They'd been best friends since their early years of training on Kamino, and were lucky enough to be assigned to the same squadron. They'd always watched each other's backs. Once Cooper was gone, Tal had simply stopped caring about the war.
Having someone show compassion to him again was, well, unsettling. Tal tore his thoughts away from Cooper, and the war, and brought his attention back to more immediate matters, like his stomach. Tal still didn't feel up to speaking. But, he found other ways to communicate. He gazed at the empty bowl, and then gazed at Tess expectantly. She laughed.
"We once had a pet keefa that looked at me like that!"
Tal had no idea what a 'keefa' was, but he liked the sound of her laughter. Tal noticed that her laugh had almost a musical quality to it. It was a pleasant sound. Tal realized, with a start, that it had been many months since he'd heard anyone laugh.
"Sorry, though. No more for now, although I do appreciate your enthusiastic appetite."
Tal's expression fell. She put the empty bowl down on the side table. She gave his cheek a gentle caress as she smiled at him.
"Eat too much of this right in the beginning, and this broth could come right back up. That could be very painful with those broken ribs, and a half-healed lung."
Tal studied her curiously. He did feel better, overall, now that he at least had something in his stomach. He wanted to stay awake for a while, maybe she would talk to him and tell him something useful. But, finally having food in his belly made him very drowsy. He heard her start singing softly to him again. He didn't even remember falling asleep.
# # #
In the morning, she actually woke him up.
"Hey, I have to head out to the orchard. I wanted to give you something to eat before I went out. Sorry to wake you up."
Tal wanted to say it was OK, and thank you, but he didn't feel up to try speaking again. It had been terribly painful the last time. His lungs and chest still burned and ached. Still, he felt like he was healing. Everytime he woke up, it was a little easier to breathe. He was looking forward to being healed enough to both breath and speak, so he could find out where on the planet his brothers were fighting. Tal hadn't heard any larty's going by overhead the entire time he'd been here. He refused to let his brain carry things to the next possible conclusion.
There was no way he'd been left behind. He'd squelch the thought the moment it would creep up - which was more and more often, now that he was staying awake for longer periods of time.
There was a bowl of food, and a glass of water already set next to him on the table. She was already dressed in her work clothes, her hair tied back, and her skin smelling freshly scrubbed with soap. Tal liked the smell of the soap. He was beginning to associate the smell with the fruit farmer. It was an earthy, natural fragrance, with just a hint of something sweet.
He became conscious of the fact that he hadn't bathed in many days. He wondered how badly he smelled, and wished very much that he could scrub himself down with a bar of soap.
Once again, she expertly lifted his head, spooning the broth into him. She dabbed at his lips with the towel, whenever any dribbled out onto the sides. Tal realized he didn't care so much anymore that somebody was feeding him. It was just the three of them - him, this farm woman, and the droid. What did it matter? The broth was gone all too soon. Tal wished he could have a substantial meal. He was still hungry. She gently lifted his head, and gave him sips of water.
Tal found that his throat hurt a lot less now. It wasn't the same painful, fiery inferno it had been just a day before. But, his chest still ached every time he inhaled and exhaled.
Tal reached a hand out, and gripped her hand in his. "Th- thank - yyou," he breathed out, surprised how much effort it took just to stammer out those two words.
She beamed back at him, her face lighting up with a huge smile. "You're most welcome! You're getting better!" Tess turned to address the droid, "One One, when can Tal start having real food?"
Tal's ears perked up at the thought of a real meal.
"Not yet. 24 more -ours," said One One.
Tal groaned dramatically, rolling his eyes. Tess laughed again at his reaction.
"Get some sleep. I'll finish up my work, and then bake up some fresh bread. I haven't treated myself to nice homemade bread in a long time. Tomorrow, we'll both enjoy it."
She smiled at him again, and he found himself smiling back.
"You have a beautiful smile," she said, gazing at him. She reached forward and stroked his cheek. Tal couldn't remember anyone ever doing that to him before. Tal felt strange things go through him at the simple touch. He had the strangest urge to reach his hand up and touch the hand that was touching his cheek. He fought the urge, because all of this just seemed too new and strange. What was happening?
"OK," Tess said, giving him one last quick smile before gathering up the bowl and glass, "I've got work to do."
She headed into the kitchen, and quickly washed his breakfast dishes. Tal just watched her, feeling confused and unsettled. Tal watched as she donned her lighter work coat, and put on her work boots. His eyes narrowed. She wasn't donning her heavier work clothes. He'd noticed she had two distinctive work patterns- one where she wore the light work clothes, and the other where she donned the heavier work clothes, and was gone for longer periods of time.
"I'll be back to check on you in a few hours," she said. "One One is here if you need anything."
She disappeared out the door.
# # #
As it turns out, Tal did need something. With the reintroduction of liquids back into system, parts of Tal that had sat happily dormant for several days suddenly flared back into life. Tal had to pee, and he had to pee badly.
With more embarrassment than was warranted when talking to a droid, Tal told the droid what he needed. The droid acknowledged his request, and then went off to search for a suitable device or container to help remedy the situation. The droid was gone a long time, and Tal could hear it knocking and banging around in another room.
"I will -ontact Owner Tess, -nd -xplain our medical emergency," said the droid.
"N-No!" Tal breathed out quickly, speaking still difficult, and painful. One One extended his sensor arm.
"According to -y sensors, your bladder -s full. I will contact Owner Tess."
The droid moved slowly across the wooden floor on noisy servos. Tal put his one good arm across his face, wishing the woman did not have to be brought into this. The droid activated an intercom panel in the kitchen, and waited for a response. A moment later, a grainy video image appeared. The woman was in what appeared to be some kind of barn, or stable. Behind her, Tal saw eopies, the large, shaggy, gentle, domesticated beasts common to many Outer Rim planets.
"What is it, One One? Is something wrong with Tal?"
Tal flushed with renewed embarrassment, as he saw how concerned the woman was over him.
"Trooper Tal -as a full bladder, Owner Tess. I -equire a specialized piece -f equipment."
The droid proceeded to describe the equipment in great detail, including how it fit onto the male anatomy, leaving no room for the imagination.
"OK, OK! I get it!" Tess said, holding up one hand to stop the droid's lengthy dissertation on how men urinate, "I'll be right there."
She cut the connection. If Tal could have crawled under the covers, he would have. This was never an issue when he was in a medbay filled with other wounded clones, tended to by other clones, trained especially in medicine. Why did he feel so awkward now?
It seemed like a long wait before Tess finally stomped through the front door, although it was probably just a few minutes. She smiled at him, as usual, when she came through the front door. She paused for a moment, after she hung up her coat and boots. She looked as if she was trying to come up with the right words.
"I'll help One One get what he needs, so you can... uh... take care of things," she said, turning a little red herself.
Tal just nodded, still wishing there were a bunch of brothers around at the moment to take care of the situation. Anatomy and biological issues was never an issue when surrounded by a bunch of guys genetically identical to yourself.
Tess disappeared into one of the back rooms. Tal could hear the sounds of things being moved about. Then, he heard the sounds of metal being hammered together, and workshop tools whirring to life. Tal squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ignore the insistent demands of his overly full bladder. Tal was about to burst when Tess re-emerged from the room. She held up a jury-rigged urinal to the droid for inspection.
"Will this do?" she asked One One, "I pulled it together from some other parts, and then added a handle to make it easier for you to grip onto and carry."
One One reached one of his mechanical hands, and carefully inspected the homemade urinal, "-xcellent craftsmanship, ownership –wner Tess. This should –hould a great –mount of urine and-"
"Enough talk!" Tal interrupted, breathlessly.
"Oh, right, of course!" Tess blushed, furiously, looking embarrassed, "One One, please help Ooper, er, Trooper Tal with that immediately."
One One began to lift Tal's blankets. Tal pinned them back down again with his good arm, looking over at Tess.
"I've got lots to do in the barn. Busy! Busy! Call me if you need me for anything else," she grabbed her coat, without putting it on, stepped into her boots without lacing them up, and hurried out the door. Tal breathed a huge sigh of relief as the door shut behind her.
"Give!" Tal demanded, breathlessly, yelling at the droid, putting his hand out for the urinal. For once, the droid didn't argue with him, and simply rolled over and handed him the urinal. Tal grabbed the urinal from the droid, and took care of business, then handed the full urinal back to the droid. Tal sighed with relief. The droid carefully made its' way to the refresher, and emptied out the urinal's contents.
'Droids are useful for something,' Tal thought to himself.
"Bladder function appears to be normal," the droid reported.
Tal just hoped he was back on his feet before any other parts of him would need tending to. He just wasn't used to socially awkward situations. Social awkwardness just wasn't part of a clone's normal existence. Then again, up until now, meeting women hadn't been part of his normal existence either. The droid came back out, checking his vitals again, as usual. Tal tolerated it, greatly wishing he was healed and back on his feet, so he could be rid of this droid.
Several hours passed.
Tal passed the time staring at the ceiling, counting the ceiling beams over and over again.
Tal wondered if the woman would come in from the barn. Surely she needed to come in for her noonday meal? How much care did eopies need anyway?
Tal was finally feeling well enough to do some talking. He had many questions he wanted to ask, about who she was, why he was here, where the other clones were, etc. He waited as long as he could, but she didn't come back in.
Eventually, fatigue took back over, and he fell back asleep again. He fell into a deep sleep, where his mind began to jumble things together between past and present.
# # #
Tal woke up slowly. His body still hurt. He hurt a lot. He'd been sleeping very deeply, dreaming of the last battle he'd fought. His mind felt disjointed. He felt a terrible sense of loss, along with the anxiety that he was not where he was supposed to be. Part of him wanted to wake up, and shake off the dreams, but another part of him kept drifting back into sleep. He hovered between the two states - captive to too many memories. He remembered the battle, but somehow the memory kept getting entangled and ensnared with bits and pieces of other battles he'd fought over the past three years. Some of it was disjointed, and made no sense at all. And, some of it was painfully vivid.
Getting left behind somehow kept getting tangled up with the guilt of leaving Cooper behind. Hearing droid killing squads was getting entangled with hearing, and then seeing, droid killing squads mercilessly finishing off Cooper. The dream then progressed into a replay of the events that landed him into the home of the strange little fruit and eopie farmer.
Tal remembered yelling: "Medic!" But, he also remembered the grim hopelessness, knowing no medic was coming. He remembered how he had almost missed the gunship, and thought for a moment he was going to be left behind. He remembered the kindness of a brother, who pulled him in to the larty, saving his shebs from being stranded on the battlefield. He remembered the terrible sense of impending doom as someone shouted: "Incoming!" Those shots were coming for him. He vividly recalled that tiny delay between when he was hit, and when all the sensations of shock flooded his system. Most of all, he recalled all of the smells, the burning plastoid, the scorched fabric from his bodysuit, and that sickly sweet scent of charred flesh.
He remembered struggling so hard to keep his body under control, so that he wouldn't drag Sky out with him. But, there was that terrible moment when his body just went slack, and he fell off the rail. He briefly made eye contact with the other brothers in the ship as they all reacted at once. Their clone reflexes had at all kicked in as one and they made a simultaneous grab for him. But, the laws of physics couldn't be denied. He was too far away, and they couldn't reach him in time.
He remembered his horror when he realized that Sky had still been dragged out with him. He was terribly upset about this- much more so than about anything that had happened to him. Not the fall from the gunship, or the blaster shot to his back. No. It was his role in the fall of a good brother. It just seemed so wrong. He remembered hearing someone scream, and realizing it was him. He remembered hearing someone else scream, and realizing it was Sky. Sky was very well liked within the squad. He was the type of brother who was always watching out for everyone else. Cooper always described guys like that as "the best kind of brother."
Tal remembered the sounds as they hit the ground - the shattering sound of glass breaking. He remembered the split-second realization that Sky was dead.
Everything started to blur together, and become disjointed… events begin to blur together, and rewind…
Tal was falling once again...
Sky was right below him, also falling...
Tal was screaming. Tal twisted and looked down. Below him was the ground, and death. Right above him, his brother of salvation, there amongst the clouds- Sky.
The dream shifted again, and everything took on a black and red haze from the belching fire and smoke of the droid's relentless cannon fire. It was hard to see anything in the hellish inferno. Tal was running for the gunship. He didn't want to be left behind. He just made it onboard, and the ship lifted off. As he peered up at his brother and the gunship, everything looked red from the reflected fire below below- Sky's armor, the gunship, and even the sky itself had a reddish tint to it.
"Incoming!" Doom. He was doomed. It seemed like such a long wait now as he just hung there in that reddish haze, gazing up now at the red Sky, and waited to be hit. Red Sky didn't seem to be nearly as brotherly. When the shot finally hit, Tal was almost relieved. His back caught fire, and he let go of the rail. As he and Sky fell things grew hotter and hotter. He felt, more than saw, Sky hit the ground, and heard the shattering of Sky's armor. His head still hit Sky's with a sickening thud, but this time Tal didn't black out. He felt Sky's head rotate and turn under his. Sky's bloodied head and bloodshot eyes looked right into Tal's eyes - harsh and accusing. Tal had committed the ultimate crime - he had killed another brother. Sky's body suddenly erupted into flames - consuming Tal in the fiery inferno. Tal screamed, and tried to roll away. Tal felt his back explode into agony, and then his chest.
Tal tried to roll away from the flames, but the more he tried to roll away, the worse the pain became.
"Be still! You're safe here!"
Tal heard a soothing voice and felt cool hands pressing down on his bare shoulders.
"Tal! Lie still!"
"Cooper?" Tal whispered hoarsely, his throat so dry that he began to cough. The coughing made the pain even worse.
"Tal, here, drink this, here."
He felt someone try to hold something up to his lips. He didn't know what it was. He turned his face away. He felt the flames leap higher, surrounding him, searing him, through his chest. Tal tried to roll away from the flames, but when he did, his back exploded with pain. Tal cried out from the pain. He tried to get away from the pain.
"Tal! Calm down! Please! You must be still or you're going to injure yourself further!" It sounded like a woman's voice. The voice sounded familiar, too. How could that be? He'd had very little interaction with civilians.
"Cooper? Where are you? Report your location," Tal felt himself beginning to panic. Why wasn't Cooper answering his comm? "Cooper! Coop! Where are you? Damnit, Coop! Answer me!"
"One One, what's wrong with him? Should we sedate him again?"
Tal heard the automated voice of a droid. He heard the words: 'Concussion. Memory loss. Confusion.' But, all he could focus on was one thought: Droids.
"Coop! Droids!" Tal cried out.
Tal felt a hand on his shoulders again. Tal reached up to strike at the droid. But, he could barely move. His arms were so leaden. He succeeded in getting one hand up but his arm felt strangely heavy and stiff.
"Easy with your hand, Tal, you fractured it."
He felt someone grab his hand, and hold it gently, lightly touching the fingertips. There was something about the voice… He reached up with his other hand.
"That's it. No one can hurt you here. You're safe, Tal."
It had been his intent to strike out, but his movements were so slow that someone just gripped his other hand as well. But, he realized, it was an organic hand. Human. Not droid. The hand held his, giving it a reassuring squeeze. The hand began stroking his, lightly brushing the back of his hand, soothingly massaging his fingertips and the inside of his palm. OK, no droid had ever done that to him. It was very pleasurable.
Tal was very confused. Nothing made sense. Droids. Combat. Shoot. Retreat. Squad. Cooper. Those things made sense. These new sensations coming at him were just too far outside the realm of his 13 years of life experience. He was in unfamiliar territory, and it was somewhat terrifying. Why did his head feel so foggy? Tal forced his eyes open. Everything was blurry at first. Just bursts of bright light. Tal kept blinking his eyes, trying to focus.
"That's it," came the soothing voice.
Tal felt gentle hands on the side of his face. He turned his head in the direction of the voice. He spotted a woman. Did he know her from somewhere? His head was pounding, and his vision was swimming. He couldn't think clearly. The hands continued to stroke his face gently. Tal tried to focus his attention on the woman. The lingering affects of his dream began to subside. Tal felt his breathing slow down, and he stopped trying to move. His back and chest still ached terribly from his recent movements.
"No, One One, forget the sedation. I think he's OK, now."
Tal squinted against the light in the room, his head still aching.
"Too bright," he rasped out hoarsely, covering his eyes with one arm.
"One One, turn the lights down."
One One rolled over to the light switch, and slid it down.
There was a slight pause, and then, the female voice gently asked, "There Tal, is that better?"
Tal peeked open just one eye - the lighting had dimmed considerably. He slowly put his arm back down again, discouraged that the simplest movements were so difficult for him to complete. He gave a weak nod, and then winced. What was wrong with his head? Was there any part of him that didn't hurt? He felt awful. He licked his lips, which were painfully dry.
"Water?" the woman asked. Tal nodded again, and then winced. He wasn't sure which would hurt less, nodding or speaking. Tal felt a gentle arm lift his head, and give him a glass of water. His back still felt like raw, hot and painful from top to bottom, and his chest ached fiercely. He felt himself get cradled against a soft, comforting chest. It was a nice feeling. He couldn't remember ever getting cradled like this against a clone medic's chest, and he wasn't sure he would like to be either. Civvie women seemed to be soft in all the right places. He had to admit he liked the feeling. He still wasn't sure where he was, but it didn't seem to be all bad.
"Slowly. Just small sips, OK? Is that better?"
Tal gave a small nod. "Who are you?" Tal asked, his voice cracking.
"You don't remember?" Tess asked, frowning slightly.
Tal shook his head, and then winced, putting a hand to his head.
"Does your head hurt today?" she asked.
Tal began to nod, and then thought better of it. This was one of the worst headaches he could ever remember having. He whispered simply: "Yes... ma'am. It does." Tal struggled to remember proper etiquette for dealing with civvies. His flash training on Tipoca City seemed like a lifetime ago. The past three years of constant warfare had not prepared him for the simplest of tasks - such as dealing with people from the outside world.
Tess leaned forward and began massaging his temples. Tal closed his eyes, and leaned in to her touch. He moaned in pleasure as her fingertips moved around his scalp, finding the pressure points, and helping ease the pain.
"Is that helping?" she asked, in what sounded like a mildly amused voice.
Tal was reluctant to speak. He was enjoying the moment too much. He just grunted out: "Uh huh," and then remembered at the last moment to add in, "ma'am." She continued to massage his head for several long minutes. She seemed in no hurry to stop, and Tal was perfectly content to let her continue. He couldn't remember anyone ever taking the time to heal him in such a manner. Before it had always been pain killing injections and bacta. This was a completely new experience to him. As the pain continued to improve, he found it easier to form a coherent thought again.
"You're not GAR," Tal said, hoarsely. It was more of a statement, than a question.
"Republic Army," Tal clarified.
"That would spell RA."
Tal simply lifted one eyebrow in response, but didn't bother opening his eyes. She could call the Republic Army whatever she wanted. He didn't care. She had a good way of making pain go away.
"Do I know you?" Tal finally asked, peering one eye open, studying her curiously for a moment, before sighing in contentment and relaxing again into the gentle touch of her hands.
"We met about a week ago, but you were in pretty bad shape that day. I'm Tess. I pulled you off the battlefield."
"Why?" Tal asked simply, he peered one eye open again, and then closed them again as she reached behind his head and found a particularly deep pressure point. He moaned into her touch as she dug deep into the spot.
"This is helping?" Tess clarified, "you want me to continue?"
"Yes, ma'am, please," Tal said, immediately.
After a few minutes, Tal asked again: "Why?"
Tess had to think back to what they had been talking about, "Why…" she prompted.
"Why did you pull me off the battlefield?" Tal prompted, quietly, sounding confused, and unsure.
"The droids were going to shoot you," Tess responded immediately, as if her actions were perfectly ordinarily and a common everyday occurrence. Then, she added in, indignantly, "They shoot the wounded!"
"We do the same with the tinnies," Tal murmured, thoroughly enjoying the feeling of the massage, he explained further, "so we don't have to fight the same tinnies time and time again."
"But, it's devastating!" Tess said, extending her massage from his temples, to running her hands through his scalp. Tal wondered if she realized what she was doing. She was all worked up about what she was talking about, and she was running her hands through his hair, again and again.
"Yes, ma'am," Tal said, trying to be agreeable. He liked the feel of Tess's hands running through his hair, and he didn't want her to get upset and stop. He'd never felt anything like it before. He didn't think it would feel the same if one of his brothers ran his fingers through his hair. Come to think of it, he wouldn't want one of his brothers running his fingers through his hair. He figured he'd say whatever he needed to in order to keep this conversation, and this delightful scalp massage, going.
After several long minutes, she switched to massaging his face. Tal emitted a long sigh of contentment. He heard the woman chuckle. He was glad this amused her. Maybe it meant she would continue longer, or do this more in the future. The future? Speaking of which, that brought up all manner of important questions…
Tal was reluctant to divert his attention from his amazing face massage, but he did need to figure out where he was, "Excuse me, ma'am. If you're not GAR, how'd you end up with me?"
"I tried to steal your blaster. You stopped me."
Tal automatically reached his hand down to his hip. His brow furrowed when he realized he wasn't wearing his utility belt. He was completely unarmed. His eyes glanced around the room with concern, trying to spot his kit. He felt a bit sheepish he hadn't done a full visual room sweep as soon as he woke up.
"You're looking for your blaster?" Tess guessed.
Tal nodded, and then winced again, putting a hand to his head. He made a strong mental note to stop nodding. Tess stopped her massage, and got up. Tal frowned, and opened his eyes. His expression showed he wasn't pleased that he'd done something to stop her lovely ministrations.
Tess went into the back room, and retrieved a neatly folded bundle. She placed it on the small table next to the bed. It was Tal's armor, and on top of it, was Tal's blaster. Tal studied it for a moment, his nose wrinkling at the smell of the burnt plastoid. But, he still felt better, having his kit close by. There was an awkward silence between him and the woman.
"Uh," started Tal, "uh, thanks...ma'am."
Tal felt foolish for being so inarticulate and tongue-tied in front of this woman.
"How do you feel?" Tess asked, thinking it was probably a dumb question for someone with as many injuries as Tal.
Tal wasn't sure how to answer the question, since he didn't really know the woman. Finally he decided an honest approach was probably best: "Uh, well, parts of me are a bit sore, ma'am. But, I thank you for what you were doing with your hands there. I don't know what that was. But, it helped a lot."
Tess smiled, "It's called therapeutic massage. My father did some healing for some of the locals, amongst other things. I saw him doing it sometimes for certain types of injuries."
"Well, I'm grateful to you and your father," Tal said, smiling at her, his brown eyes fully meeting hers. They looked at each other fully for a long moment. And, then a yawn crept up on Tal before he realized it, and could contain it.
"You're tired! I'm keeping you awake," Tess said, her voice apologetic.
"No, ma'am!" Tal denied, "I'm fine, really, not tired!" he denied, even though he could feel his eyelids getting heavy. He blinked rapidly, trying to keep his eyes open. He didn't want her to leave. He wanted to get back to whatever it was she had been doing with her hands.
"You need to rest," she said, getting up and straightening up all the blankets around him.
"Yes, ma'am," Tal said, not quite able to keep the disappointment out of his voice, another yawn escaped out of him.
"T-ess," Tal managed to breathe out the name one time before his eyes fluttered shut again.
# # #