Eye Of the Storm
This is set about eight months after Wild Card, while also referring to events that have occurred in many of my other fics along this timeline, but you don't need to be familiar with them to enjoy it. (Not that I'll turn away any new readers or reviews...both of which are always welcome and copiously encouraged!)
FYI: ABG = After the first Battle of Geonosis; since this story will encompass Order 66 – which occurs on the 1089th day after the start of the wars – I wanted to follow the "canon" timeline as closely as possible. (Thank you, Wookieepedia!) Pay attention to the dates, as sometimes they'll shift mid-chapter.
Again, I'm not Lucas and don't make any money from this venture. As always, many, many thanks to my lovely and talented beta, SerendipityAEY. (We may as well just start a tab with all the Obi-fluff I owe you :P)
Now, sit back, relax and get ready to enjoy the ride...
Part Two: Bastion
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming
Chapter One: Involuntary Departure
1078 days ABG
Balasi was unpleasant, to say the least, and it wasn't entirely due to the sticky humidity that even Traxis' temp-controlled armor couldn't keep at bay. Along with his squad-mates, he flanked the Jedi Knight, Kalinda Halcyon, and watched as she stared down the subject of their latest mission: an unctuous Human ambassador who towered over her while they stood in the courtyard of his opulent estate. Though Traxis didn't remember the Balasian's name at the moment, he knew enough to realize that this man was vastly wealthy, as evidenced by his expensive shimmersilk garments and the stink of pomade in his perfectly styled hair.
Already it had been a long mission, even though it had barely begun. Why it's our job to get this mudcrutch to the Core is beyond me. Surely there's something more pleasant we could be doing? Maybe slogging through the tundras on Rhen Var with no clothes on? This part of the whole special-ops business I could do without.
The Jedi took a breath, which Traxis knew meant that she was attempting to calm herself before she spoke again. "Ambassador Kerr," she said, her voice neutral. "I ask that you please cooperate with us; the extraction will not go quickly if you insist on bringing your...belongings with you." Though she did not turn her head, all of the clones could see the stack of bags and packages that was amassing nearby, a pile that was was steadily growing larger as a line of servants kept adding items to its bulk.
I suppose we could fit all of that on our ship, but that's not the point. Traxis tried not to shake his head. Civvies. Honestly.
The ambassador snorted and waved his hand in her face as though attempting to swat the dark-haired woman aside. "You shan't dictate what I can and cannot do, Jedi. Now, I told Senator Organa that I'd be willing to offer my considerable financial support to the Republic, but I'm not going anywhere without my art collection." As if to emphasize his point, the man glared down at her from his considerable height.
Traxis chuckled to himself. Good luck trying to intimidate a Jedi, especially this one. Especially when she's been so...preoccupied with the war and all. Preoccupied wasn't quite the right word; she had been growing increasingly uneasy ever since their encounter with the Kaminoan scientist, Creon Dai, who'd not only escaped, but had taken custody of a group of young clones. This thought made Traxis shudder. No telling what the long-neck has done with those lads. Look what he did to Weave. Though his brother's face was hidden by the helmet he wore, Traxis could picture the cybernetic implant that had been placed around the clone's left eye.
"The matter is not up for debate," the Jedi replied. Traxis noted the steel behind her words and nodded to himself. He hadn't seen her angry too often, but he knew enough to understand that she was a force to be reckoned with if she was given cause. Kalinda – she'd insisted that her squad refer to her by her given name – took another breath before she continued. "Ambassador Kerr, we are not in immediate danger, but that could change if the Separatists make good on their promise to invade Balasi. Please accompany my men to our ship at once. I'll see to it that-"
Again, the ambassador cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Your clones will have nothing to do with me or my belongings. I'd rather be in the company of those insufferable battle-droids of the Separatists...at least they don't pretend to be anything other than machines." He sniffed and looked over the heads of Trax and his brothers; the ambassador was tall, for a Human, but Traxis figured that he could take the man out with a few well-placed jabs to the ribs.
Maybe a kick to the knee-joint...you know, if it came to that. It probably won't. He's on our side, strange as it may seem. He frowned beneath his bucket. Guess it's a good thing I'm not in charge of negotiations.
Kalinda inhaled one more time before her entire demeanor changed; Traxis watched as his brothers – Milo, Crest and Weave – all focused on her, knowing that something interesting was about to happen. Beside the Jedi, the clone Captain Stonewall remained motionless, even though Traxis figured that he and the Jedi were communicating somehow.
The captain's somehow become Force-sensitive and fallen in love with a Jedi that he talks to in his mind. And I used to think that lightsabers were weird. This thought made him glance at the captain's kama, beneath which he knew one of the Jedi weapons was concealed; another by-product of being a Force-sensitive clone. Though, it is interesting to watch them spar, at least until they go all starry-eyed over each other.
"Fine." She looked up at Stonewall, who nodded.
"Come on, lads," he said through their private comm channel. "Let's go." The Jedi had turned and begun walking out of the courtyard, making her way towards their dingy transport, the Wayfarer, where it rested in the private hangar of the ambassador's palatial estate. The heat was thick and intense; distant insects droned in the air, muting their footsteps.
Milo – the youngest of the group – sounded confused. "We're leaving? But our orders were to extract the ambassador and bring him to the Core. Are we going to just walk away?"
"Orders are orders, but I'm sure Kalinda has a plan, Mi," Crest replied. "Right, Cap?"
Stonewall was silent, though Traxis could see that his gaze was on the dark-haired woman who lead the group through the paved and manicured walkways, seemingly unaware of anything except her next footfall. A sudden shout behind them made her pause her steps and incline her head, though she didn't turn.
"Where are you going?" The ambassador's voice was noticeably more nervous than before. Traxis blinked into his HUD to get a view of the Human's position behind him: sure enough, the stately man was hurrying after the Jedi and her squad. "Wait one moment..."
Damn. Thought we'd be done with the di'kut.
Kalinda turned at last and watched as the man approach; her dark eyes hardened for an instant before her expression neutralized again. "We're leaving, Ambassador Kerr. You've made it quite clear that you don't require any Republic assistance at this time; therefore, we're off on our next assignment. Don't worry, I'll make sure someone stops by to collect you – eventually. Come on, guys." She turned again, but the Human male used his considerable reach to grab her arm.
"He did not just do that," Traxis muttered. Instantly, all of the clones were clustered around the ambassador, and despite the fact that no one had his weapon aimed, the presence of five identical armored and armed men was enough to give the Balasian pause. The Jedi's gaze fell to his hand on her arm, then back up to his eyes. Kerr's fingers unclenched and he lifted his hands, stepping away from the group. That's right...back off, nice and slow.
"Please," Kerr said, his voice obsequious. "Please, there must be something I can do...something I can provide you to make you help me?" He made a vague gesture at the pile of belongings beyond them, which was still growing larger.
At this, Kalinda looked thoughtful. She crossed her arms before her and seemed to be deliberating something. Over the comm channel, Crest chuckled. "I know that look. This di'kut's really in for it, now."
Milo shushed him. "Let her do her thing."
Finally, Kalinda smiled up at Ambassador Kerr. Had Traxis cared about such things on women, he might have thought that she had a pretty smile. Certainly, Captain Stonewall seemed to think so and he believed that the ambassador did as well, for the tall man smiled back, relief evident on his face, especially when he heard Kalinda's gentle tone. "As a matter-of-fact, there is something that I'd like...very much."
What? Is she serious? Traxis resisted the urge to voice the thought over the comm. He noted that his brothers shifted minutely, though no one said anything. Stonewall remained at her side, still as his namesake with his visor fixed on the ambassador's face, his red-striped armor dappled by the palm trees above their heads.
Kerr nodded, his hands folding and unfolding before him; Trax noted that he seemed to be sweating a little more profusely than was necessary, even accounting for the heat. "Anything. Just...please get me to the Core." His pale eyes darted to Stonewall, and Traxis was reminded of how most civilians viewed the faceless clone soldiers who were fighting the war for them.
We do make an impact in our kits, that's for sure. He bit back a chuckle.
"Very well." The Jedi nodded and took a breath before she spoke again; when she did, her words were measured as if she was reciting a grocery-list. "Let's see...the journey out here from Ord Mantell was about sixteen hours. Before that, we had about five hours – each – of prep-time for the mission: going over mission plans, escape routes, that kind of thing. Stone, what are we up to?"
"Forty-six hours, General." The captain's bucket inclined to her, his voice was neutral.
The ambassador's eyebrows knitted in confusion. Traxis thought he could relate, but he kept quiet as Kalinda continued. "When we reached Balasi, we were asked to remain in orbit for five hours while our 'credentials' were verified, then there was that little error of our transport's detention in your loading dock – for thirteen hours, if I recall correctly."
Stonewall nodded. "You do. That's sixty-four hours, General Halcyon."
Over the private comm, Crest snickered. "I don't know where this is going, but I like it."
Despite himself, Traxis smiled. "Same here."
Kalinda went on. "And once we did manage to make it through your security measures and reach your home, I believe that you kept my men and myself waiting for...was it four or four and half hours, Captain?"
"Four and three-quarters, actually." Only a brother could have discerned the grin in the clone captain's voice.
She smiled again. "Of course. So that brings us to sixty-eight and three-quarter hours, Ambassador."
The man shook his head, his skull glinting in the sunlight beneath thinning, salt-and-pepper hair. "I'm afraid I don't follow..."
There was a moment of silence that was broken only by the droning insects as she leveled her gaze upon the taller Human man. When she spoke her voice was devoid of emotion, but Traxis could see that she was trembling – the only indication of her ire. "I want those hours back, Kerr. That's almost three days of these men's lives that you have wasted. Those are days that none of them can afford to lose. Can you do that? Can you give them back that time?"
Ah. Time. The one thing we don't have. Well, that and freedom, but who's keeping track? Traxis tried not to think about it, normally, but it was not a small concern for the Jedi. But she's always so concerned for us, even though it's kind of impractical. We're soldiers. We were born to die in this fight. We've all accepted it – I guess – I wonder if she ever will? He pushed the unpleasant notion to the side as he watched the ambassador's reaction.
Kerr's mouth opened and closed; he was flummoxed and Kalinda nodded, her eyes flicking over him with unconcealed disdain. "I thought as much." She turned and began to walk away, the clones following in her wake.
Behind his bucket, Traxis grinned. And who says Jedi aren't pragmatic?
Stonewall didn't say anything to her until they were all back aboard the ship; while Weave and Milo prepped the transport for take-off he looked at her, sending his thoughts to her through the Force. Are you sure about this? The Council won't be pleased.
After shooting a brief message to the Temple regarding the Ambassador, Kali had taken a seat at the small table at the center of the ship and was studying a familiar looked up and met his eyes, and he noted the flickering anger that he'd seen in her gaze of late, indirect and distant. "I'll let them know and they can send someone else to collect him," she said at last, her shoulders falling a bit. "But we wasted more than enough time dealing with that bishwag." He could sense the agitation that was writhing within her, and that the memory of his and his brother Weave's capture by Creon Dai, a rogue Kaminoan cyberneticist was still fresh.
But her...unease really started before that, with our journey to Kamino, he thought, sliding down beside the Jedi and scanning the datapad over her shoulder. Something's changed for her. Every time he thought he knew everything there was to know about Kali – as they'd been in a relationship for nearly two years – she managed to surprise him. I know she feels regret over how the clones are being used in the war, but there's not much either of us can do about that...I had hoped she'd work through it, eventually. He put a hand on her arm and sent her a tendril of calming Force-energy, hoping to soothe her.
In response, she sighed and leaned into him, savoring the contact while she continued to study the datapad. "I still can't make heads or tails of it," she murmured at last, setting the 'pad down and rubbing her eyes. "Those clone cadets just...vanished. Even Quinlan Vos couldn't find them."
Stonewall picked up the report that the Kaminoan Prime Minister, Lama Su, had sent her regarding a Clone Youth Brigade that had gone missing about eight months ago, just prior to Shadow Squad's failed assignment to capture Creon Dai. Since she'd gotten it, he estimated that Kali had read the report hundreds of times, to no avail. And the last thing we heard, he's still on the loose. There had been – admittedly conflicting and unverified – intel that indicated the Kaminoan was still working for the Seps, and no one had been able to find the missing clone cadets who were presumed long-dead by now. But she won't give up on them. The determination that emanated from her was more than admirable; Stonewall loved the part of her that refused to give up even though he knew that it often brought her heartache, so he set down the 'pad and kissed her forehead, offering what comfort he could.
The gesture that should have made her smile simply made her look his way with a mixture of sorrow and anger, not directed at him, he could tell, but rather all the way towards the Core, towards the Jedi Council. "I know they have other things to worry about, but I've been trying to go search for the kids for months, and there always seem to be 'more important' things for us to do." She frowned and picked up the 'pad again. "It's not fair and it's not right. The worst part is that I'm sure they realize it – Mace, Yoda and the others – but they haven't done enough to find the cadets. Even in war...this kind of thing shouldn't be allowed to happen."
Stonewall had no ready reply to that; all he could do was kiss her again.
Across from them, Crest and Traxis slid into seats at the table, an assortment of rations between them. "Here," the bald clone said, tossing Stone a protein bar. "Dinner. We're out of that tea you like, Kalinda." His tone was apologetic but she smiled at him, and Stonewall reflected that no matter how irritated she seemed with the world at large, she always had a kind look or word for his brothers.
She's one of us now, he thought as he unwrapped the bar. As much as any non-clone can be. We're all in this together. I don't know of any other Jedi whom that would apply to. We're lucky to have her...in a lot of ways.
"Thanks, Crest. We can pick some up another time." She looked towards the helm, where Milo and Weave had set the hyperspace coordinates; the ship was starting to slip through the ribbon of stars. "Are you guys hungry?"
"I could eat," Milo said, rising from his place at the co-pilot's station to join the group. "Weave?"
The clone shook his head; the lights from the receding stars glinted off of his bucket that he almost never took off, even in the company of his brothers, and he rarely spoke anymore. Stonewall felt Kalinda's sorrow almost tangibly; one of the not-so-great things about being Force-sensitive was the ability to sense the emotions of others, particularly those you loved. He squeezed her shoulder but knew that he could do nothing more at the moment, so he reached for another protein bar. It was bland and tasteless, like most army-food, but it was at least nutritious.
The group sat in relative quiet for a few minutes before Milo spoke. "What's next, Kalinda? Are we going back to Coruscant?" He sounded a little put-out, and Stone remembered how he'd questioned her actions with the ambassador.
He should know better. She always has a good reason for doing what she does. At this thought, he frowned to himself. Of course, it may not always be evident – even to me – but it's there, nonetheless.
"Not right now. We need to pick up some supplies at Talasea and drop them off at Alderaan, for their relief efforts," Kali replied. "Then I suppose it's up to the Jedi Council." There was a trace of bitterness to her voice, for all that she tried to mask it, and Stonewall recalled how she'd gone before the Council after their encounter with Creon Dai to question them about their actions regarding the clone army.
I can't blame her for being upset about how the clones are treated, but I've tried to explain that most of us don't see it the same way that she does. Despite his assurances, she had remained unconvinced, and had only seemed to grow more uneasy with the whole thing.
But – in his fashion – Milo seemed oblivious her tone. "In that case...anyone up for a little bit of practice? I think I've about got that new song worked out." His doubt seemed to have vanished with her words.
"I'm game," Stonewall replied, glancing down at Kalinda, who was regarding Milo with fondness. "What do you think, Kali'ka?"
As expected, his nickname for her made her smile at him, the expression filled with warmth. Before she spoke, she cast him a knowing look. I love it when you call me that, you know. "Sounds good, Mi."
The planet of Orea was too dry for a Nautolan to be comfortable – even one with a little bit of Twi'lek blood – as they were a water-loving people and this place was mostly rust-colored dust and flat vistas. Padawan Zara Karell watched her new master, Honi Tallis, zoom away on a speeder bike and tried to quell the nervousness that arose from the absence of the red-haired woman whom she'd grown to respect and admire over the last few months of her fledgling apprenticeship. Throughout most of her thirteen years, Zara had longed to be assigned as a Padawan to a Jedi – any Jedi – but Master Tallis was not quite what she had expected.
She's leaving, again. It feels like she only just got back from helping those villagers. Why doesn't she trust me enough to go with her? I thought I was an okay healer, at least. Zara sighed and shook her head. Maybe I don't deserve to be a Jedi, after all, if my own master won't even trust me with a simple mercy-mission.
"Don't worry, Commander," Captain Dodge said, his eyes on the retreating speeder. "We'll have things sorted out here until the general returns." His tone was kind and a little protective. Zara looked up at the clone captain, noting the calm assurance that he seemed to radiate. Her thick, multiple lekku, evidence of her mixed heritage, twitched with agitation.
"I know, Captain." She hesitated. Something wasn't right, but she hadn't had a chance to mention it to Master Tallis, who'd rushed off the moment she received word that the nearby village had found more injured civilians from the last battle. I wish she was back already. A Padawan's place is with her Master, isn't it?
Zara shivered and looked around the almost empty camp; Master Tallis' group of soldiers had arrived on Orea only a week ago to aid in the relief efforts brought about by a recent skirmish on the world. As a gifted healer, Honi Tallis' skills were much-needed, and Zara knew that she was fortunate to have been selected for her apprenticeship by such a talented Jedi Knight, despite the fact that she felt wholly unprepared for the task that had been set before her. She was, after all, still quite young, though she'd heard of other Padawans – only a little older than she – who were on the front lines. That thought was enough to make her shudder.
But it feels like I only just left the Temple and now I'm in the middle of everything. Nothing's like I imagined it'd be. Master Tallis had said that the war made everything move faster, including the career of each Jedi, which Zara supposed was her way of telling her new Padawan that it was time to grow up. I'm a Jedi – almost. I shouldn't be afraid.
The clone captain looked down at her. "I was going to have the boys look over the transport. That landing was a little rough for my liking and we haven't had a chance to do any maintenance to it." She could almost taste the question in his words.
Weird...I'm technically his commanding officer, but he's...well, an adult. Though, I guess we're about the same age, when it comes down to it. She nodded. "Okay." Captain Dodge gave her a smart salute and turned to the rest of his men, shouting orders and generally seeming more at ease, from what she could tell. Zara continued to watch the receding dust cloud that Master Tallis' speeder had kicked up, trying to push away the agitation that had crept into her thoughts.
Master Yoda would tell me to still my mind and not give in to fear. Maybe meditating will help. After a brief glance around, Zara moved to a spot several yards away from the camp where she figured she could meditate in peace.
At leastOrea was pretty, if far too dry for her taste. There were no tall trees here, but there was much vegetation; in particular, she liked the spiky cacti that drew their moisture from the air, collecting dewdrops in the morning that the local fauna drank. She had woken up early this morning just to observe this phenomenon, taking delight in the way that the fuzz-birds had delicately made their way over the spines of the bulbous plants to collect what water they could, their pale blue feathers nearly matching her own skin.
Captain Dodge's voice made her pause and turn. "Commander..."
His words were distorted by the familiar helmet; she looked into his visor and imagined his face, like all the others. Can they tell each other apart? Without the Force, I don't think I could. "Yes, Captain?"
"Sir, General Tallis gave me strict instructions not to let you wander off." His feet shifted in the dirt; beyond them she could see his men milling around in their various tasks.
Zara frowned. "I just want to meditate for a while. I won't go too far." She turned to leave, but the captain cleared his throat. When she looked at him again, he was digging something out of his belt. He tossed a small object that she caught with ease. As she examined it, she realized that it was an extra tracking chip from his kit; all clone soldiers had one embedded into their helmets, but careful officers sometimes carried spares, just in case. Captain Dodge was very careful. "For my own peace of mind, sir. But please stay nearby, just the same."
He wants to follow orders. But it's not like I'm going to run away. Not knowing what else to do, Zara nodded and tucked the chip in her pocket. "Thank you, Captain. I will." She tried to sound confident, but she thought that her voice was more like a squeak; to his credit, the clone captain only nodded and turned back to his men, though she could sense that he was keeping one eye on her at all times. He's nice,she thought as she made her way into the reddish, rocky landscape. They all are, I guess. Not that I know too many soldiers. And they're all the same, aren't they? Isn't that what clones are?
After a few minutes of walking she found a nice spot beside a smooth, purple-hued boulder. After taking a sip from her canteen – she was not dependent on being near water, but Zara found that it was a comfort to her – she crossed her legs and took a seat, resting her back against the rock and trying to quiet her mind.
An inhale brought her the taste of dust, dry air, and the sunlight that even now was starting to bend its way across the rolling, reddish hills. Her tentacle-like lekku allowed her to absorb even the most minuscule scents; if she'd been underwater, she would have been far more informed about the world around her. Upon her exhale, she tried to release her fear and doubt and uncertainty, as she had been instructed countless times.
But it was easier said than done. I'm not ready. Her heart beat faster with the thought that would not leave her alone. It's too much. I'm not ready for this. I'm not ready to be a Padawan. But I know I should be...I'm old enough, after all. I know I need to grow up.
She gripped the toes of her worn boots and inhaled again, forcing her mind to be still and quiet, hoping to reach that place of calm that she'd managed to find so easily in the quiet rooms of the Jedi Temple, under Master Yoda's serene gaze.
That was when she sensed it:
It was not a taste or a scent exclusively, but rather a combination of the two; it was also a sudden knowledge that filled her with fear. In the next moment she felt a small prick of pain at her neck, then the world grew lopsided and muzzy as she heard the shouts of Captain Dodge and his men in the distance, mingling with blaster-fire and the sudden shuddering of the ground. Pain flared, then Zara was falling even as her hand lifted her saber from her side. She could taste the red dirt, and belatedly realized that one of her lekku had landed on a small cactus. There was another bout of pain, then the distinct grinding sound of approaching droids. She squinted up to see as the shouts of the clones faded in the distance.
She felt something cold and metallic grip her arm and her saber dropped from her hand as she was lifted up to the fading sun.
Then her world went black.
Yay! New story! This one was challenging in many ways, but I'm pleased with how it turned out. It's a bit long, so hang in there. I plan on keeping to a M/W/F update schedule, just FYI.
Read, enjoy, review. :D